By Andrea Weckerle, Founder, CiviliNation
As the founder of CiviliNation, I see examples of online hostility and attacks every single day and am fully aware of the negative effects this has on individual targets and on society as a whole. In fact, CiviliNation was created specifically to address this epidemic.
CiviliNation’s mission is to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment, or lies. We view freedom of expression as a fundamental human right that no person should have taken away from them. We also know that unless people start listening instead of screaming at each other with their strongly-held beliefs and viewpoints, the ability to move forward on some of the most pressing issues of our times will be severely hampered.
As part of our outreach, we’re launching our “Taking a Stand” campaign where we invite people from around the world to take a stand for civil digital discourse by signing our pledge and sending us a short video explaining, in their own words, why civil discourse is important to them. Two examples, one of me and one from a CiviliNation supporter, among others, can be found on our YouTube channel.
Because of the importance of online civility, especially in the college environment, I’m honored to have been invited to speak at the American Democracy Project National Meeting in Orlando on June 3 about “The Need for Online Civility in a Hyperconnected World.” My session will outline the extent of the problem, address the emotional, physical and reputational effects on victims, and discuss what can be done to create a healthy online environment where everyone can fully engage and contribute without fear or threat. I’ll specifically address why the unique culture of college-age students makes them particularly vulnerable to online hostility, both as targets and as perpetrators, and what college institutions need to do to prevent this from escalating. Certainly the death of Tyler Clementi at Rudger’s University and other similar tragic examples serve as a wake-up call that this is a serious issue that needs immediate and concrete attention.