A common lamentation online, one that spans the political divide, is that civility in American politics has died. If only people would lower their voices, stop posting rude memes, and quit with the name-calling, we could start having meaningful conversations, unite around our shared experiences, and come together as a nation. In the current media environment, in which Twitter and Instagram are inundated with harassment, journalists are routinely threatened, and YouTube algorithms prop up reactionary extremists, it is difficult to argue with that sentiment. As idyllic as it might sound, however, the call to restore civility isn’t as straightforward as it appears. This talk will explain how and why civility alone isn’t enough to fix what’s broken. It might even make the underlying problems worse. We need, instead, a more robust ethical framework, one that takes into account technological affordances, and the ways these affordances contribute to unethical behavior--even when someone has no idea that they are causing harm.
Whitney Phillips is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University. She is the author of 2015's This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture (MIT Press), which was awarded the Association of Internet Researchers' Nancy Baym best book award. In 2017 she published The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online (Polity Press), co-authored with Ryan Milner of the College of Charleston. She is also the author of the three-part ethnographic study "The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Far Right Extremists, Antagonists, and Manipulators," published in 2018 by Data & Society. She is working on a third book titledYou Are Here: Networked Manipulation in the Digital Age with MIT Press.