Wait. Hear me out. Twitter is civilizing us, and depending on your perspective, this could be either very good or extremely bad. First, disregard any preconceived notions of “civilizing” as “making better or more productive” and instead think of it as “refining”. Sometimes refinement towards a certain ethos can be bad thing overall.
I know the platform can be exhausting. It seems like there is a new aggrieved constituent, regardless of political leaning, every time I refresh my timeline. There’s way less celebration of the small things that make life worth living than there are pieces of news or information designed to spike attention and stress levels.
If there are rules to civility, I think there is something about how those rules mutate which is important. People clamoring for the expansion of respect isn’t a guarantee that it will be given, nor is it inherently a threat that you must grant said respect so in order to exist. But it pushes the conversation in a way, that says “being civilized means consideration of my rights”. For some, whatever the rights or position may seem a bridge too far. Personally, if they line up with my personal interpretation of the Rights of Man, then I don’t see much of an issue - people are asking for a redefinition of civility in terms of what groups are worthy of respect, and I think that’s a worthy conversation to entertain, for starters. For many people, it’s a matter, of life, death and stake in the political system.
The neutral ground for people who feel aggrieved by this demand is not in the weaponization of civility, which I seem to find in both political extremes. On the right it is the use of respect to shut down protest as a form of impoliteness or impropriety. Yes interrupting someone’s meal is rude in everyday circumstances. And being a public official is not an everyday circumstance - there is, historically, an added weight and responsibility to the office, which means you serve and are to held accountable to all constituents. Leveraging the concept of civility to keep them from being heard when you occupy a position of power is a punching down of sorts - the only leverage the public has is very limited when it comes to certain issues, especially when compared to the leverage held by someone who is close the policy deciders. To compare the level of civility expected by each of these parties is willfully disingenuous, at best. This is a case of using politeness to shut down a conversation that people don’t want to hear, this is civility as suppression, something which we tend to apply constantly in smaller ways - in our workplaces, in any place with rules and order. Civility is a boundary, and this is an abuse of that function.
There is also a liberal use of civility which creates the impression that we must be hyper aware of our own behaviors, to the point that it could be perceived as a restriction and a detriment to overall discourse. Without being too broad, even some bad ideas need to be expressed in order to be challenged and reshaped into better ones. If democracy can be narrowly defined as a competition of ideas, then allowing a free range of expression, of part of our advancement in civilization is the mojo which comes from increased information flow and knowledge exchange, there should be a balance of censorship and liberty which allows evolved ideas to emerge whilst guiding ourselves away from the most self indulgent or willfully disrespectful of human rights in general.
In other words, conservative cultures by no means have a monopoly on creating cultures of repression when it comes to undesirable thoughts and behavior, and I find that often the things we espouse and denounce very easily become the things we come to embody when passing from powerlessness to empowerment.
By no means are any of these thoughts designed as a free pass to the reluctant gatekeepers of technology - I would deem the deliberate spread of easily disprovable lies to be detrimental to the process of sharing and improving ideas. Such lies do nothing in this regard but prove that all language is not created equal. A lie designed to incite and inflame is not the same as an unpopular truth. Twitter and Facebook will have to stake an opinion on the spectrum of free speech, because their current strategy of relative inaction has allowed malicious actors to define their position for them. I suppose not all silence is golden.
Mostly though, watch out for the bullies. They are the ones who will leverage these concepts to kill the conversations we need to keep having.