Civil discourse in an uncivil era

On November 3, the English Language and Literature Department hosted the 2021 Dorothy Black Lecture: Civil discourse in an uncivil era / Uncivil and sick in America.

The presentation explored the power of social media to facilitate the production and dissemination of disinformation, which in turn affects the well-being of civilians and the political well-being of American democracy. It is part of the Dorothy Black lecture series, named after Dorothy Black, who graduated in English from UBC in 1952. This lecture was given by PBS host and American author, journalist and historian Alexandre heffner.

As Heffner explained, there is an essential difference between disinformation and disinformation: disinformation is false information that has been made false by mistake or by mistake. It’s unintentional. Disinformation is intentional; it is the deliberate dissemination of false information.

Heffner has proposed that the inherent “truncation” of information in social media, combined with the desire to build social capital, is what prompts people to deliberately share what some might call “fake news.”

For example, a single tweet should contain a maximum of 280 characters. Instagram captions, while longer, can only convey simple bits of information. As Heffner has said, the inherent brevity required by social media content makes it unsuitable for grasping the nuances and complexity of important issues such as politics.

This change has also affected the way speeches and old forms of speech are now delivered. For example, the rhetoric of a typical presidential speech now focuses on those “quick punches.” This emphasis on hard-hitting one-liners, which can be translated into a ten-second instagram reel outside of its original context, could lead to an inaccurate or oversimplified portrayal of the topic at hand.

Heffner also spoke of dropping out of fact-based conversations and debates. In turn, journalists cannot easily believe that what they are listening to and reporting is factual rhetoric.

However, Heffner pointed out that just because sociopolitical rhetoric and discourse has “degenerated” does not mean that we just have to tolerate it. He urged civilians to be persistent and take action.

“If you don’t like what these social platforms are doing (…) you have to boycott them yourself,” he said.

He recognized that amnesia – the phenomenon in which people forget how harmful disinformation is and the tangible negative consequences it has created in the past – can impact “lingering power” and effectiveness. boycotts. Nonetheless, his message to the public has not wavered: lobby.

Another way to combat disinformation is to create a space in which politicians can engage in empathetic listening.

He recommended that the media and policymakers “generate a discourse in which Republicans and Democrats can speak openly about our issues … have a table and exchange ideas.”

Heffner postulated that aspiring champions of democracy cannot deliver on their campaign promises and political goals if they cannot build bridges. There must be a willingness to listen and move forward towards a solution despite the fact that they come from different value systems, as they still share the common goal of advancing the welfare of voters, a t -he declares.

Heffner attempted to create such a model himself. His team simulated specific public policy situations and invited politicians to a discussion on these issues. Invited politicians were to engage in empathetic listening and learning. This model was constructed to oppose the adversarial model of typical political debates. The DNC told candidates that they would be banned from participating in the primary dialogues if they participated in Heffner’s model.

Either way, Heffner continues to look to the future. He said he continues to believe that “[Americans] can recover [their] democracy.”

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