Is Civility on the Decline in the U.S.?

Weber Shandwick today released a fascinating survey called: Civility in America.  The survey is chock-filled with valuable information.  I highly recommend clicking the link below to download the report – a quick and easy read at six pages (full disclosure: I work for Weber Shandwick).

From the report (released in conjunction with Powell Tate and KRC Research):

“Are Americans becoming less civil in the way they communicate with each other?  And is the increasingly impersonal way people tend to communicate with one another today – via email, posting online and texting – somehow contributing to this escalation in incivility?

An overwhelming majority of Americans view the erosion of civility in human interaction today as a major problem, and feel the distressing situation has only been made worse by the recession.  Among the many signs pointing to this steady decline are the daily occurrences of cyber bullying, online “flaming” and nasty blog comments, the venomous bickering taking place on some reality TV shows and between TV news personalities and their guests, and the mean-spirited mudslinging among politicians and their loyal supporters.”

The survey involved 1,000 U.S. adults and the results are sobering:

  • 94% of all Americans consider the general tone and level of civility in the country today to be a problem, with approximately two-thirds believing it is a “major” problem (65%)
  • Most Americans believe that civility has worsened in the past few years (72%) with the financial crisis and recession hastening erosion.
  • When asked who is responsible for improving civility, 87% of Americans indicated that this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the general public
  • In social media, blogs are considered more uncivil than social networking sites and Twitter by Americans (51% vs. 43% vs. 35%, respectively)

As a social and digital media consultant, I find the online aspects of the survey extremely telling:

  • 45% have defriended or blocked someone online because of uncivil comments or behavior
  • 38% stopped visiting an online site because of its incivility
  • 25% dropped out of a fan club or online community because it had become uncivil

Social networks actually fared well compared to other avenues of discourse -especially when compared to blogging.  This isn’t a surprise.  Why?

My take: anonymous commenting.

Facebook, for example, doesn’t allow anonymity.  When people are forced to identify themselves – discourse becomes much more civil.  One of the main problems with the commenting on blogs has to do with anonymous posting.  Many newspapers and blogs have had to shutdown commenting on specific stories because the vitriol from anonymous commenters has gotten so bad.

I’ve explored solutions to incivility online and how to stem the flow of rudeness previously.  There’s a link below to the post.

What do you think?  Are Americans more uncivil than in the past?  Do you see more incivility at your work and/or at home?  What role does social media and the web play?


Weber Shandwick’s survey “Civility in America”

HighTalk’s post “Much Ado About Commenting”

Weber Shandwick

Powell Tate

KRC Research

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