- /Trent Bitterman
The world of online publishing is replete with fictions and falsehoods. That is not to say that everything in the news is fake, but much of it came from places you would never expect. Ryan Holiday, in his book Trust Me I’m Lying, discusses the darkest parts of the media cycle. One story he tells is of a reporter asking for a quote from a Beyoncé fan about her Super Bowl performance. It is only later on that we discover that the reporter’s motives were less than genuine, they just wanted a quote condemning the performance (Holiday, 2017). Despite teenagers getting most of their news from sources that may be considered less than reputable and the frequency of fake news on the rise, teenagers may actually be better educated on the issues facing us today than people solely reading or watching the standard, reputable news sources.
Tackling Wicked Problems, by Martin Carcasson, discusses some concepts that help explain this phenomenon. The first is the idea of divergent thinking. Carcasson describes this as having many voices, all with different viewpoints and opinions (Carcasson, 2013). By having a diverse group of people in a discussion, ideas and positions may be brought up that would not have been otherwise, improving the discussion and probability of a favorable outcome. This effect is also present in the way that many teenagers consume news. Blogs are one of the most common ways that teenagers interact with news and according to Marchi, have an unparalleled ability to transmit firsthand experiences and diverse perspectives (Marchi, 2012). By being presented with a wider range of world-views and perspectives, teens are less likely to be stuck in an echo chamber and more likely to hear ideas that they had never considered before (Marchi, 2012).
The second concept is what Carcasson calls the groan zone. The groan zone is a place where the diverse group of people and ideas established earlier can come together and discuss the issues at hand (Carcasson, 2013). Carcasson says that for the groan zone to be productive they need to ask good questions, and be provided with good information (Carcasson, 2013). This reflects the way that many teenagers approach news. Much of the news teenagers watch is what Marchi refers to as fake news. These are television shows that parody network news, using satire to discuss public affairs (Marchi, 2012). What sets these shows apart from normal news broadcasts is that instead of just matter-of-factly stating the news, they explain and expand upon the issues they discuss (Marchi, 2012). This discussion enables teenagers to better understand the news they watch and be more productive citizens. By having a better grasp on the most important issues, when it comes time to vote, teenagers will be able to cast their votes more intelligently.
With teenagers becoming more active in public discourse, it is important that they are knowledgeable about the topics that they will discuss. Despite the unorthodox news sources that they frequent, teenagers who get their news from these outlets tend to be better educated about present day affairs than their peers (Marchi, 2012). This bodes well for the future of public discourse in our nation, a more intelligent conversation is a better conversation.
Since the advent of the internet, many new spaces for discussion have been created. One of the most prominent of these is Twitter. Twitter is used by millions of people, all of whom have distinct views and personalities. When this diverse group of people is put together into one space discourse tends to become less than civil.
This incivility is due to some of the characteristics of the space that Twitter creates. One of the most obvious characteristics of Twitter that contributes to incivility is the design of Twitter itself. Every social network is designed with certain attributes in mind that conceptualize the space its designers want to create, and Twitter is no different. Lefebvre calls this part of the creation of space representations of space (Lefebvre, 1991). The most prominent attribute of Twitter that helps to create its space is the 280, previously 140-character limit. This feature sets it apart from all other social networks and is certainly part of its attraction, but it is also the cause of much of its incivility. 140 characters, even 280 characters, is not many. Because of this, what subtlety might have been in people’s discussions in a long form medium is lost on Twitter. Instead of people being able to extensively argue their positions, they are forced to boil it down to something much simpler. Sometimes this causes their speech to not mean exactly what they meant, prompting misunderstanding and reducing the civility of the discussion (Anderson, Brossard, Scheufele, Xenos, Ladwig, 2014).
Another characteristic that amplifies the incivility of Twitter is the removal of barriers between people. The physical world has barriers that separate groups of people from each other. People who live in California are quite different from people who live in West Virginia; distance is what separates these two groups from each other. On Twitter, however, these barriers do not exist. This means that someone with a completely different worldview than you may, out of nowhere, jump into a conversation you were having with people in your group. This does not happen very often in the physical world, but on Twitter it happens all the time. This can also happen in the reverse. You might stumble upon ideas that you had never considered before and may not even like. Often, when confronted with differing opinions, instead of determining their accuracy, people immediately deny them and run back into the fortifications of their beliefs. Hart and Nisbet call this the boomerang effect (Hart Nisbet, 2012). This further reduces the amount of productive discussion on Twitter and helps increase incivility.
The third attribute that promotes incivility on Twitter is something that is shared by all online spaces. It is the lack of face-to-face contact. Often, during arguments and discussions on Twitter, it is all too easy to forget that there is a real person on the other end that you are communicating with. According to Anderson, this removes many of the consequences that in-person communication holds (Anderson, Brossard, Scheufele, Xenos, Ladwig, 2014). The combination of a lack of consequences for breaking civil norms and forgetting that you are communicating with real people increases the levels of incivility on Twitter.
All of these attributes that help to decrease civility across Twitter are a result of the social space that Twitter and its users have created for themselves. Twitter’s design, its representation of space, gives a structure that all discourse must flow through. Not all structures have the effect of increasing incivility, but in Twitter’s case the forced simplification of ideas fuels strict adherence to ideological lines and makes complex discussion challenging. Twitter’s users who bring their ideologies and ideas, its representational space, upon finding that not everyone holds their same ideas, try to fight back and fall into ad hominem attacks and other nonconstructive forms of discourse. These characteristics all add up to create a space where incivility is the norm and civility the exception.
Citizenship, like many other systems, serves to add order to the institutions around us and benefit those institutions in many ways. One of the simplest ways citizenship achieves this is through the regrouping of people. It does this both by separating the citizenry from others, but at the same time preventing groups from becoming distinct from the citizenry. Citizenship separates us from others through a binary relation to a nation, either you are a citizen of that nation, or you are not. This state of citizenship is enforced in part by borders. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault defines this concept as enclosure, the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and closed in upon itself (Foucault, 1995). When borders around a country exist, a space inside is created that is different from all spaces outside. These differences can be cultural, ethnic, religious, or one of many others. Characteristics like these then permeate the citizenry, creating a single identity that most citizens of a country identify with. This process of creating a unifying identity helps cause the second part of regrouping, preventing groups from becoming distinct. A nationwide identity makes it more difficult for smaller groups, dissimilar to the larger citizenry, to appear. Many small groups spread throughout the country are not beneficial to the institutions of the nation. Foucault’s concept of enclosure also concerns itself with this. Foucault states that for a single idea and identity to become standard, all groups of people must be broken up, leaving only individuals who promote the unifying identity (Foucault, 1995). This process is greatly beneficial for the institutions of the nation. It is much less challenging for an institution like the government to control a group of like-minded individuals than it is for that institution to control many disparate groups who are all vying for their own advantage.
Another way that citizenship benefits institutions is through identification. Almost every state has some form of identification for its citizens, whether it be a driver’s license, a government ID, or even a social security number. Identification provides much utility to institutions. Its most obvious use is to verify that the individual the institution is communicating with is who they say they are, but it could also be used to track an individual’s performance or specify certain characteristics about them that may be of use to the institution. Foucault examines identification in the context of the army. He states that identification was important to the army because it allowed all individuals to be tracked. If someone deserted or if false information was presented as truth, the army would know about it (Foucault, 1995). Citizenship is used similarly. There are certain rights, such as voting, that only the citizens of a country are given. Identification allows the institution to be reasonably certain that the people making use of their services are allowed to. This reduces unneeded strain on the institutions, increasing their productivity.
Both of these features of citizenship increase the productivity of institutions by cutting away excesses that are not necessary for the survival of the institutions and may in fact be hindrances. Regrouping of peoples streamlines institution’s exchanges with individuals, making them mostly the same instead of being personalized for the individual’s group. Identification reduces the use of resources to only those who qualify and thus reduces the burdens put on the institutions by individuals. By limiting the amount of people and difficulty of communications institutions must consider, institutions are able to be more efficient and productive.
I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.