How to be civil on social media

Social media content may be relevant to civil litigation and hence discoverable. What limitations might a court impose on such discovery?

By Ronald Hedges

Social media is ubiquitous. Individuals post all kinds of personal details, including images of themselves in recreational activities, to be shared with or circulated to the public or to a limited number of people with who they have real or ephemeral ties. Social media content may be relevant to civil litigation and hence discoverable. What limitations might a court impose on such discovery? One answer is provided by Scott v. USPS, Civil Action No. 15-712-BAJ-EWD (M.D. La. Dec. 27, 2016).

Scott arose out of a motor-vehicle accident. The plaintiff commenced a civil action and sought damages for personal injuries. One defendant sought discovery of the plaintiff’s social media “about her activities since the accident, which involve physical activity,” and attached to a motion a post-accident image of the plaintiff and her fiancé in ski attire on a mountain. Not surprisingly, the plaintiff resisted the discovery.

The parties resolved their dispute in part. However, the court was left to decide whether certain information about the plaintiff’s social-media accounts should be produced. The court found the information sought to be discoverable under Fed. R. Civ. P.26(f). Nonetheless, the court limited production to all of the plaintiff’s social-media postings, including images, from the date of the accident forward that related to her alleged physical injuries or “reflect[ed] physical capabilities that are inconsistent with” the injuries she allegedly sustained because, as drafted, the discovery request was overbroad.

What lessons does Scott suggest? First, if a party seeks discovery of an adversary’s social media, it would be appropriate to review the party’s public postings for evidence of content relevant to the discovery sought. This avoids the argument that the requesting party is engaged in a proverbial “fishing expedition.” Second, when framing a request for social media, counsel should strive for specificity, both as to subject matter and time period, to avoid argument that the request is overbroad.

Ronald Hedges is with Dentons in New York, New York.

Created byВ FindLaw’s team of legal writers and editors | Last updated November 18, 2018

Censorship is something that concerns Americans because it can stifle free expression, infringing on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. As debates, dialogues, and news reports increasingly take place on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, censorship practices on these sites have become an important part of the free speech discussion.

The following are some examples of content that has been removed from social media sites:

  • Copenhagen’s iconic “Little Mermaid” statue;
  • A girlfriend’s livestream of the fatal shooting of her boyfriend by a police officer;
  • A picture of a cat in a business suit;
  • A photo of a plus size model; and
  • A meme depicting and identifying a convicted rapist.

With the wide range of content that has been taken down by social media companies, it’s difficult to determine what can and can’t be posted on social media. The free speech provisions of the First Amendment prevent federal, state, and local governments from blatant internet censorship, which includes social media. However, social media companiesВ (as with all private, non-governmental interests) have more freedom to restrict content on their sites.

Content Removal From Social Media Sites

Social media companies engage in “content filtering” or “content monitoring.” Sometimes footage or posts are removed due to reports from users who flag content that’s considered inappropriate according to the rules of the site. Other content removal is based on newsworthy events.

For instance, it’s common practice to scrub a user’s social media presence if they’re a suspect or have been arrested in a violent event like a mass shooting. Entities like YouTube use software programs to remove content that isn’t consistent with the platform’s views (for example, pro-Isis videos) and this is often done before the objectional videos have even aired.

Terms of Service Violations

There are several ways to get banned from social media sites by, for example, trolling, submitting self-promotional links or computer-generated spam, or posting sexually-explicit or violent material. However, these practices often overlap with the more general terms of service violations.

By becoming a user of any social media platform, you agree to the company’s terms of service, which are the rules of how a user should conduct themselves on the site. When users violate a company’s terms of service, the company can remove your account for any reason. Additionally, the companies have the authority to change or alter their terms of service at any time without informing users.

Terms of service violations are not only important because they allow for the removal of content from a website, but the violations also trigger the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act.

The Computer Abuse and Fraud Act

The Computer Abuse and Fraud Act (CFAA) is a broad federal law that criminalizes numerous activities related to computers and computer networks. The CFAA is not only a criminal law, but also gives private individuals and corporations the right to sue to recover damages.

The Act forbids anyone from accessing a computer “without authorization.” The courts have interpreted this to mean that violating a company’s terms of service is equivalent to “accessing that company’s computers without authorization.” Because the law threatens to burden free expression conduct (such as journalists or researchers using automated web browsing tools), some critics, including free speech advocates have voiced criticism of the CFAA’s role in social media censorship.

Social Media Censorship Concerns

Obviously social media firms have a legal right to restrict content on their sites; but this works both ways. Consumers have the right to avoid their services and go to other platforms if they don’t like a social network’s censorship practices. However, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube dominate the industry, so there are not too many other places to go.

The limited choice in social media platforms has raised unfair trade concerns. Some critics believe that social media outlets have a bias against conservatism and suppress content expressing those viewpoints. However, left-leaning political advocates also have issues with social media dominance, which indicates problems that are more than just political.

Another complaint about social media censorship is the lack of transparency and consistency about the content that’s taken down. Facebook addressed some of these criticisms by disclosing their specific rules for taking down content after it’s been referred to their content moderators. The rules discuss topics including graphic violence, nudity, sexual activity, and hate speech.

For instance, Facebook’s community standards detail removal of content that’s used to promote violence against someone or which threatens someone based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, disability, or disease. Twitter’s rules say basically the same thing, but add “age” as another criterion.

Social Media Appeals Processes

If your content was taken down, you typically have the ability to appeal the decision with the social media provider. The appeals process for a takedown depends on the social media platform. For instance, Twitter suspends an entire account for violations, even if the offending content was a single tweet. When it comes to Facebook takedowns, the following appeals process will apply:

  • Facebook will notify you when your content is removed with an alert.
  • You can then click “Request Review” and your request is referred to a member of Facebook’s community team.
  • Your appeal is reviewed by an actual human (not AI software) within 24 hours.
  • If Facebook determines that the takedown was a mistake, the content will be restored.

Get More Information about Social Media Censorship and the Law from an Attorney

The social media laws and regulations that involve content censorship are very complex and difficult to navigate. If you’re impacted by social media censorship, then you should discuss your situation with an internet/social media lawyer right away.

Social media lets us connect and see that we can make a difference

Posted October 6, 2010

In his editorial, Gladwell describes some powerful scenes from the civil rights activism in the sixties where people literally risked life and limb to stand up for their beliefs. Gladwell asserts that contrary to this level of risk and passion, the activism associated with social media is transient participation without sustainable motivation or potency because it’s based on weak ties. As described by the sociologist Granovetter (1983) in his seminal work, connections are called ‘weak ties’ to describe how they link us to outside networks providing information we wouldn’t otherwise get.

How to be civil on social media

The word ‘weak’ in our common usage, however, misrepresents the nature of the weak ties connection. It is not an emotional or interpersonal description of the quality of the link, but rather a term for how the individuals (or nodes, in network parlance) are related. In network terms, Jesus and Buddha were weak ties because they connected people across many, many networks. However, for many of the individuals who connected to them, their emotional attachment and commitment was anything but weak. The intensity and commitment to the connection is independent of the weak/strong descriptor. In social networks, many individuals connect to many others. Will every connection or relationship be of binding emotional intensity? No, of course not. Does this mean that social media activism does not have the potential to create activists with staying power because they were created through weak ties? No.

It is a mistake to attribute human passion and commitment to social change to the communications conduit. Gladwell cites Clay Shirky’s (2008) example of the lost cell phone and resultant Internet-based resolution and notes that “The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient.” This is absolutely true. It is not, however, indicative of the humanity or passion that drives communication. It is an example of how communication facilitated a goal. The cell phone loss, while inconvenient, was not a pivotal social event, nor did Shirky suggest that it is. It is a demonstration of how information travels in ways that were not possible before, connecting people in a way that allows for action in a new way.

If sustainable activism requires passion and commitment, then it makes more sense that social media will facilitate rather than decrease advocacy by connecting more of those who do have passion. At the same time, passersby who are not on engaged in the ‘fever’ that Gladwell describes of the sixties can still meaningfully contribute. There are multiple paths to promoting social change: increasing awareness, providing support, and taking action. All are necessary.

There are four important ways that social media is redefining activism and advocacy.

The first is that social media changes public awareness. Because information circulates so freely and quickly, it creates a new baseline for change. The donations to the Haitian earthquake are a case in point. While many people were moved to text in a donation, a few were committed enough to get on a plane and go to Haiti to help. The many, however, had a new appreciation of the enormity of the disaster in a part of the world that might never have invaded their consciousness. Social media distribution gave it an urgency much more potent than getting highlights in the evening news while reclining passively on the sofa. This matters when it comes to changing public policy where the majority view is what ultimately legislates change.

Second, social media distribution means we are getting information from someone in our network. In this world of ubiquitous information, the scarce commodity is filtering and social proof. Consequently, whether this information is from a Facebook friend, a Twitter follower, a real friend, or someone in our Scrabble group, it is more persuasive because it has context and word of mouth validation.

Third, social media networks cross technologies and have immediate impact that gives it urgency, makes it personal and allows for immediate individual action. This is particularly important in raising donations quickly and spreading critical information.

And finally, social media technologies have changed the psychological impact of communications by changing our expectations about participation and individual agency. The ability to act, even if it is furthering a Twitter post on the Iranian elections, allows us to feel a level of involvement in events we might not otherwise feel (or possibly have even heard of.) This act, while insignificant compared to the bravery of the college students at the coffee counter, creates engagement and emotional buy-in and well as a sense that our individual actions matter. I think of it as the “thin edge of the wedge,” to borrow a phrase from novelist Nancy Mitford. It moves people toward social action.

Gladwell’s position is change-phobic. Things don’t have to happen like they did in the past to be powerful, valid, or effective. Social change isn’t about what tools people use. It’s about people. It’s about what they believe, their goals, and how they communicate, connect, and commit. Twitter does not create a revolution any more than the first small group of protesters that show up in person do. It is the people who join in that create energy and action. Don’t underestimate the potential for bringing people of passion and purpose together online and don’t assume that something that starts online will stay there.

This is a transmedia world–information knows no boundaries. Just because the civil rights protests occurred without Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones, doesn’t mean a powerful movement for change won’t happen with them helping bring people and resources together. It’s even possible that with social media, the civil rights movements of the sixties could have succeeded faster and avoided some of the physical violence. A YouTube video of the threats against those first black college students “sitting in” at the coffee counter would have been extraordinarily powerful and taken the cause to a national level much earlier.

References

Gladwell, M. (2010). Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted. The New Yorker, (October 4), http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?cu…

Granovetter, M. (1983). The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. Sociological Theory, 1, 201-233. Retrieved September 24, 2007 from JStor. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0735-2751%28193%291%3C201%3ATSOWTA%3E2…

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Books.

Unwanted phone calls or texts? Threats of violence or blackmail? If this sounds familiar, you may be a victim of stalkers, USC expert says

Whether in person or on the internet, being stalked is a terrifying and isolating experience. Victims may be afraid to report their stalker out of fear of retaliation or be unsure where the dividing line falls between innocent behavior and obsessive, potentially dangerous tendencies.

Licensed clinical social worker Jessica Klein specializes in trauma treatment grounded in neurobiological research, and works with sexual assault victims at every stage of their journey — from crisis intervention to individual and group therapy. Klein’s understanding of sexual trauma offers insight into the role that stalking plays in sexual violence.

How do you define stalking? Between whom (strangers, friends, romantic partners, etc.) does it most often occur?

We define stalking as unwanted or obsessive behavior toward an individual intended to frighten or coerce. This can include bombarding the individual with texts, emails, phone calls or gifts, showing up at someone’s house or workplace, explicit or implicit threats, blackmail or even sexual assault.

We often speak of stalking in a heteronormative framework, with the man stalking the woman, but it can certainly happen the other way around. And it can happen in gay, lesbian and transgender relationships as well. Stalking can happen as part of the cycle of intimate partner violence, serving as another way to control a victim and establish dominance over that person. But it can occur in platonic relationships, too.

Victims of stalking often don’t know they’re being stalked. Many of the behaviors of stalking — getting texts or phone calls from someone, for example — aren’t problematic in and of themselves. But in the context of obsessive or repetitive behavior, those actions definitely qualify. The term “stalking” is thrown around so lightly these days: “I met this cute guy, and I totally stalked him online.” But true stalking can be incredibly scary for the victim.

How do cyberstalking and social media factor into this discussion? Has the prevalence of social media actually made it easier for these behaviors to proliferate?

Social media is a tool, like anything else. You can use it to keep tabs on your friends, but you can also use it to make someone’s life miserable. Social media enables an unprecedented amount of access to people’s photos, whereabouts and dating history. On social sites, you can send one compromising photo to thousands of people at once, greatly amplifying the threat of blackmail.

When we talk about cyberstalking, we need to be careful not to victim-blame. But at the same time, young men and women absolutely need to know how to make good decisions with the information they put on the internet. Unfortunately, anything you post that’s publicly visible — or anything you send privately via text or message app — can be used against you.

In cases of sexual assault, women are often reluctant to speak up for fear of being blamed or shamed for the event. Do you see a parallel between stalking and sexual assault?

There are parallels between stalking and all kinds of sexual or gender-based violence. Generally speaking, our culture socializes girls to be nice and boys to be assertive. Women who are being stalked often don’t want to be rude, even if the behavior makes them uncomfortable — so they struggle to set appropriate limits. It’s also easy for victims to dismiss the behavior or experience feelings of guilt or self-blame.

Many aspects of our culture, including popular romantic comedies, have taught us the notion that persistence is a virtue that’s often rewarded. How many movies follow this general plotline: A woman rejects a suitor, he pursues her and shows her how perfect they are together, and they ride off into the sunset. But this belief can be very dangerous when it’s applied in the real world. It normalizes obsessive behavior as part of courtship or breakups, making it harder for women to speak up when things get out of hand.

What should you do when you are being stalked or if someone has developed an unhealthy obsession with you?

It can be hard to assess when exactly an interaction has crossed the line into stalking. Victims often second-guess themselves or believe they’re overreacting. Eventually, the barrage of attention can become traumatic, which makes day-to-day functioning — and getting help — all that much more difficult.

The first thing to do if you think you’re being stalked is to break the hold of isolation by seeking help. Share what’s happening with someone you trust, such as a family member, friend or pastor. Work with that person to document as much evidence of stalking behavior as you can — phone calls, texts, emails and unwanted visits — and take that information to your HR department or the police, depending on the situation. It can feel like a huge risk to speak up, but that really is the first step to ending the abuse.

If you’re not sure who to turn to, there are many valuable online resources, such as RAINN, where you can seek guidance and emotional support.

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Chapter 4: How to Gather Social Media Evidence

Chapter 4: Social Media Case Examples and Court Decisions

1. Request for user names and passwords granted: Zimmerman v. Weiss Markets

In the Zimmerman v. Weis Markets Inc. case, Zimmerman was an employee of a subcontractor of Weis Markets and was seeking damages for an injury that occurred at work. Zimmerman claimed that an accident seriously and permanently impaired his health. Weis Markets reviewed the public portions of Zimmerman’s Facebook and MySpace pages, and felt that there might be some additional information to refute the damage claims in the private sections of his profile.

How to be civil on social media

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On the public portions of his profile, the company found photos of Zimmerman engaging in some of his favorite activities after the accident took place at work. They knew the photos were from after the accident because his scar from the accident was visible in the pictures.

The court ordered Zimmerman to hand over his passwords and login information to the counsel for Weis Markets so that they could access the private sections of his Facebook and MySpace accounts. The opinion released by the court said:

“Zimmerman voluntarily posted all of the pictures and information on his Facebook and MySpace sites to share with other users of these social network sites, and he cannot now claim he possesses any reasonable expectation of privacy to prevent Weis Markets from access to such information.

“By definition, a social networking site is the interactive sharing of your personal life with others; the recipients are not limited in what they do with such knowledge. With the initiation of litigation to seek a monetary award based upon limitations or harm to one’s person, any relevant, non-privileged information about one’s life that is shared with others and can be gleaned by defendants from the internet is fair game in today’s society.”

2. Facebook status update used to corroborate an alibi: The Rodney Bradford case

In another case, a New York teenager’s Facebook status update provided evidence that helped to keep him out of jail. The teen had been arrested for a mugging in Brooklyn. Despite his insistence that he wasn’t connected to the crime, the boy spent nearly two weeks in jail before his father discovered a Facebook status update he had made from his Harlem apartment one minute before the mugging, which was 12 miles away.

The boy’s father presented the Facebook evidence to the district attorney, who then went on to submit a subpoena to Facebook to verify the location from which the status update was made. The time stamp and the location were used as evidence to prove that the boy wasn’t at the scene of the crime. He was cleared of the charges based on the electronic evidence.

3. User name and password request denied: Arcq v. Fields

In this case, James Arcq was seeking damages because of an auto collision, claiming that the driver of the other vehicle, Robert Fields, was negligent. Arcq claimed that the accident resulted in an inability to participate in certain activities. The defendants in the case believed that Arcq had profiles on social media sites, and requested that user names and passwords to all of Arcq’s profiles be handed over. The defendant’s request was not made based on information obtained by viewing the public contents of Arcq’s social media profiles.

In the opinion document in the Arcq v. Fields case, the request to hand over social media username and passwords was denied because the defendant wasn’t able to show a valid reason to believe that there was relevant information on the plaintiff’s social media profiles. The opinion also mentioned that the defendants in the case didn’t seem sure that Arcq even had any social media accounts.

4. Evidence not properly authenticated: Griffin v. State of Maryland

In the Griffin v. State of Maryland case, Griffin had been charged with multiple counts in the death of a man at a bar. Prior to the trial, Griffin’s girlfriend allegedly threatened one of the witnesses on MySpace. The witness that was allegedly threatened gave two different versions of his story in the first and second trials, later explaining that there was a discrepancy in his stories because he was threatened prior to the first trial.

On the day after Griffin’s girlfriend testified, the State introduced pages that had been printed from a MySpace account. The account was in the name of “SISTASOULJAH” and had the same birthday and hometown as Griffin’s girlfriend. There was also a photo of a couple on the page, which counsel and the court agreed appeared to be a picture of Griffin and his girlfriend.

Defense objected to the use of the MySpace printouts in the case because Griffin’s girlfriend was never questioned about the MySpace account and whether or not it belonged to her. It could not be determined exactly when the message containing the threat was sent, and it also couldn’t be verified that Griffin’s girlfriend was the one who sent the message. It was argued that anyone could have set up that page and posted the threat.

The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial the defendant’s murder conviction for the State’s failure to properly authenticate the MySpace pages. The court found the trial judge abused his discretion in attempting to authenticate the MySpace post through the lead investigator’s testimony only. The court found that the picture of the girlfriend, coupled with her birth date and location, were not sufficient to authenticate the printout.

How to be civil on social media

I initially wrote about how to subpoena various social media sites back in 2011. Seeing as it has been a few years I thought it was time to provide an update.

It’s worth noting that almost every site you attempt to subpoena will throw up the Stored Communication’s Act, (18 U.S.C. §2701) as a defense:

How to be civil on social media

Courtesy Cornell University Law School

That is, they’ll all claim that it prevents them from “disclosing the contents of an account to any non-governmental entity pursuant to a subpoena or court order.” (EFF has a good overview of the law here). Which stands now, but I wonder how long it will really last. With so much information that could be highly relevant to a wide variety of civil cases now being stored in social media accounts, people are continually attempting to challenge the law (more below).

When it comes to email, courts have been disinclined to enforce civil subpoenas against these companies. See In re Subpoena Duces Tecum to AOL, LLC, 550 F. Supp. 2d 606 (E.D. Va. 2008) where the court held that there is no civil subpoena exception to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) or the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) that permit the disclosure of the content of communications:

Here there is no pertinent ambiguity in the language of the statute. It clearly prohibits any disclosure of stored e-mail, other than as authorized by enumerated exceptions. Apple would apparently have us declare an implicit exception for civil discovery subpoenas. But by enacting a number of quite particular exceptions to the rule of non-disclosure, Congress demonstrated that it knew quite well how to make exceptions to that rule. O’Grady v. Superior Court, 139 Cal. App. 4th 1423 (2006).

Courts have ruled that email services fall under the category of ECS (see below). But results are mixed when it comes to social media postings (Facebook wall posts, tweets, shared photos, etc).

ECS v. RCS

Much of it comes down to how something is classified. First up is ECS. An electronic communication service (“ECS”) is “any service which provides to users thereof the ability to send or receive wire or electronic communications.” 18 USC § 2510 (15). The other category is RCS. The term “remote computing service” (“RCS”) is defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2711 (2) as “the provision to the public of computer storage or processing services by means of an electronic communications system.” But, there is no clear ruling on how courts classify social media sites into one category or the other.

The most in-depth analysis to-date is found in Crispin v. Christian Audigier, Inc., 717 F.Supp.2d 965 (2010), wherein the defendant served subpoenas on numerous social media services and the plaintiff moved to quash, claiming protection under the ECPA. The judge held that social media services operate as both ECS and ECS providers:

After presenting background on the SCA, Judge Morrow addressed the primary issue of whether the subpoenas should be quashed under the SCA. Recognizing that no court “appears to have addressed whether social-networking sites fall within the ambit of the [SCA],” the court took a two-step approach. First, the court determined whether Media Temple, Facebook, and MySpace qualified as ECS providers under existing case law. Second, the court asked whether the specific content on these services met the definition of “electronic communications.” Ultimately, it concluded that the services operate as ECS and RCS providers at different times, depending on the content at issue. Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, 24 Harv. J.L. & Tech. 563, Spring, 2011.

For private messages (Facebook private messages, DMs on Twitter, etc) on social media services, the court really focused on storage:

How to be civil on social media

Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other social media platforms have proven themselves capable of minting money. Both of the companies’ original CEO’s are worth over a billion dollars. While social media platforms have built money making machines using their users’ data, the machines have also torn our nation apart. Conspiracy theories, fake news, and malicious trolling have polarized populations across the globe. As the world suffers through a pandemic, protests, and financial depression, social media has only aggravated the dire situation. In this post, I describe how social media is destroying society.

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“Web 2.0” companies develop user profiles based on the many social media interactions their users engage in. Every post, like, and retweet I perform is stored in my user profile. User profiles enable Web 2.0 companies to serve their users targeted advertisements, or advertisements specific to their users’ unique interests. Simply put, social media platforms display advertisements to users most likely to click on them. These targeted advertisements result in high conversion rates, making advertisers happy.

Unfortunately, the above business model has implications far beyond business financials. By enabling users to create content feeds restricted to their own viewpoints, users are insulated from perspectives that differ from their own. Sometimes, they may even be insulated from the truth. That said, users want their beliefs to be reaffirmed and even radicalized. They latch on to fake news and rabidly defend it. Clearly, what’s good for business is bad for our nation. Adding fuel to the fire, our global competitors realize the US is splintering. They’re homing in on the splinters and opening them up further.

Let’s rewind the clock back to 2016. As the date of the US presidential election grew near, the candidates campaigned aggressively across the nation. Surprisingly enough, the most effective campaigners lay outside the US. On the other side of the globe, Russia built up an operation of social media posters capable of creating viral content favorable of Donald Trump. Much of this viral content contained misleading information or was altogether untrue. We’re approaching the next election and this practice hasn’t come to an end.

Malicious actors continue to feed lies to social media users eager to consume them. While protests over the brutal killing of George Floyd continue, warnings of mobilizing Antifa militants have surfaced on Facebook. Heeding the warnings, local militiamen assembled to meet the Antifa militants with force. Anti-climatically, the militiamen never encountered the Antifa militants. In fact, there were no Antifa militants. Malicious actors sounded false alarms about the phantom fringe group on social media. Their intention was to widen our society’s already yawning fractures. Mission accomplished.

The leaders of the Web 2.0 companies have amassed more power than they may have ever anticipated wielding. Their user bases exceed the sizes of the world’s largest nations. Like all community leaders, Web 2.0 CEO’s are tasked with governing those in their community. Unfortunately for the communities, the CEO’s have failed in their responsibilities. Hate speech is more frequently appearing on users’ social media feeds. Rather than accepting accountability, Web 2.0 company leaders are protecting hate speech as free speech by arguing their platforms don’t create media. They simply distribute media. Never mind the fact that facebook posts and tweets are often ways in which news is broken. The poorly justified protection of hate speech is just another way how social media is destroying society.

Disorder sowed by social media has clearly failed to stay confined to the web platforms. Social media is a cancer metastasizing across the globe, proving far more dangerous than the coronavirus pandemic. The only way to stop the cancer from killing us is to kill it first. Social media companies, at a minimum, need to be further regulated. Politicians need to ensure the platforms are held accountable for the lies and hatred they propagate. Mark Zuckerberg wiped the floor with US political leaders. Our elected officials failed to comprehend even the basic ways in which social media companies make money. We need to elect officials who understand the extent of the problem created by Web 2.0. It will then be their responsibility to address it.

If I had it my way, I’d put an end to social media altogether. The business model failed. The failure is in turn causing the failure of our civil discourse. If we have any hope of recovering from such a dark period in our history, we’ll need to solve our social media problem. Letting the problem continue to fester will guarantee our demise.

How to be civil on social media

Times in our country have never been more conflict-ridden. In a new survey, Civility in America conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research, they revealed there is a severe civility deficit in our country. Sixty-nine percent of Americans blame the Internet and social media as the cause – not surprising given that one in four have experienced cyberbullying or incivility online.

What are Americans saying?

“Social media is full of uncivil acts. Trying to remember what the most recent would be is difficult as it’s in my feed pretty much all the time.”

“In commenting on a social media question, I got blasted for not going along with everyone else.”

“Usually social media is full of uncivil people. Sometimes you can’t even comment on a status without someone trying to argue and prove points about something you don’t care about.”

Being respectful to people is not only about online, it’s has to do with our way of life and how we treat people offline too. In this latest poll of Americans surveyed:

• 84 percent have personally experienced incivility

• 59 percent quit paying attention to politics because of incivility

• 53 percent have stopped buying from a company because of uncivil representatives

• 34 percent have experienced incivility at work

• 25 percent have experienced cyberbullying or incivility online, up nearly three times from 2011

• 25 percent of parents have transferred children to different schools because of incivility

What does civility mean to Americans?

According to the survey, although Americans recognized the shortage of civility in their daily lives, they can easily describe what it means to them.

“Being civil — thoughtful, kind, sympathetic, able to get along with others, understanding in thought and word.”

“Respect and honor people as you would like to be treated.”

“Observing the rules of social etiquette, even when one disagrees.”

“Treating one another with mutual respect.”

“The act of being civil. Remaining polite, even if you don’t necessarily want to.”

“Tolerating people and things you don’t like for the sake of peace within a group.”

No one is immune to incivility.

It’s rare that anyone can escape rudeness today. Leading the pack is road rage at fifty-six percent followed by almost half of Americans experience impoliteness when shopping at fortyseven percent.

The Internet is still a place of troubled waters with twenty-five percent of Americans reporting they have experienced online cruelty or cyberbullying compared to only nine percent in 2011.

How to be civil on social media

Staying above the fray of incivility today and improving civility.

How do we ignore the negativity that is streaming down our news feeds or on our television and radio?

Fifty-nine percent of Americans said they started by eliminating all conversations that were related to politics because of the negative tone and incivility. Fifty-three percent of people stopped buying from companies where they were treated rudely while twenty-two percent of parents actually transferred their child to a different school because they were treated badly.

It’s clear that Americans want to see civility improve across the country. Almost half recommend civility training classes in schools and colleges. Over fifty percent believe the onus can be on social media sites and search engines for not doing a better job at curbing the rampant onslaught of fake news.

Seventy-five percent of Americans believe, in order to improve civility in our nation, it starts with us. We are the role models, we must lead by example. Sixty-six percent of people continue to encourage their friends, family and colleague to be kind to each other while seventeen percent will post stories or photos of people who act uncivilly.

How will we turn our shame nation to a civil nation?

Let’s begin by taking the “civility challenge.” We should take that challenge on. As Americans, we collectively recognize we have a civility problem, even a crisis, on our hands. Yet, while we agree on what civility means, we don’t see ourselves or even the people close to us as part of the problem. Each of us should take a closer look at our actions on a daily basis and evaluate if our own behavior may be having a deleterious impact on others.

Refrain from posting or sharing uncivil material online. While this is intuitive and perhaps simplistic, half of all incivility is encountered in search engines and on social media. What may seem civil to the poster/sharer, may be considered very uncivil to others. Through sharing and liking, our content often gets seen by people who aren’t our direct social media contacts. If we want to set an example of civility, we need to be thoughtful about the implications of not just our real-life actions but our online actions as well.

Takeaway tips:

  • Empathy combats cruelty.
  • Having a bad day, don’t be afraid to turn-off your tech.
  • Don’t allow angry people to ruin your day.
  • Pre-order Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate for more insights for overcoming digital discourse.

How to be civil on social media

Follow me on Twitter and join me on Facebook. My new book, SHAME NATION: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate (Sourcebooks) will be released October 2017.