The Civility Manifesto: A Call to Action (Your Input Needed)

The Civility Manifesto: A Call to Action (Your Input Needed)

Reader Comments (152)

  1. I’m all in. Civility is a lost art, especially on the internet. However, as someone whose client has been a victim of angry swarm on the internet, I believe we will make little progress until content generators like Reddit, Gawker, Upworthy and others adopt the same manifesto. As long as there are venues that encourage hate (because there is money in it), people will hate. But kudos for starting the ball rolling.

    • I agree with Brian. While the topic is honorable, our society suffers from deep rooted causes that produce this lack of civility. Those who swirl in a cesspool of foulness are beyond my realm of concern, and the path I’ve chosen in web design and content management does not include the role as a kumbaya agent for others. There’s not enough time in the life of Mary to dwell on worrying about that ilk of people. I simply refuse to acknowledge the greasy layer of society and enjoy the fluffy brightness of opportunity that guides my career, my hopes and my dreams.

      • I have to admit, I kind of feel the same Mary. I even refuse to watch the news most of the time because I see no point in getting upset about things I can’t change. That said, if we don’t try to stem the tide, we’ll eventually drown in it. Refusing to acknowledge the problem only allows it to breed and grow.

        I like it, Ms. Simone. I’m sharing everywhere I can. Hopefully, it will take root in the slime and smother some of it out. (Mixing metaphors is my forte.)

          • I also avoid the mass news media. I worry sometimes that we’re all building our own echo chambers online. Even if we block, report, and ignore the haters and trolls, they’ll still have an audience. Hopefully smaller and smaller until it’s just each other. In their own echo chamber. I don’t think that’s an ideal result either, but don’t know what more to suggest. I agree with block, report, and ignore. But it’s probably not enough of an answer to actually solve the problems.

  2. It’s so easy to get taken away by the anonymity of the web… but then nobody’s really ever anonymous, and words hurt, whether said out loud or written on a screen.

    Basic civility is badly needed and you have a great first step here πŸ™‚

  3. That is not going to happen its not how online journalism works or comments work

    Why don’t you focus in on what really matters- money, getting enough of it to hire someone to put up with the bs and get you out of the owner/operator situation and mentality.

  4. You’re brave to broach this very important topic. I’m a psychologist and know that words wound–especially the written word that can be saved and reread. If you have something negative to say, it’s much better to say it in person.

    Many times I think people think they are being a hero when they call someone a bigot or curse them out, but it all feels like hate to me. Hate leads to bullying which leads to hate and more bullying. “No hate” should even apply to trolls and bullies in my opinion. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Melanie, I agree with you, I think we’re definitely in the minority on that opinion. And I do have my days when it’s tough to let go of those angry reflexes, for sure.

  5. I got a prickly comment the other day and I wanted to jump ALL over it. And I’m glad I didn’t. I paused to consider first. Do I want people to not leave comments because they are afraid of getting jumped on? Or do I want my site to be a safe space for people to share WHATEVER their thoughts are? Also (in my case), my readers are tired parents. OF COURSE THEY’RE SNIPPY sometimes, they’re EXHAUSTED.

    I’m so glad I didn’t blow up on that person (and I almost did). There’s enough of that sort of thing without my adding on.

    To sum up, I totally agree with you.

    • It’s tough, isn’t it? Because you’re feeling prickly and tired, and they’re prickly and tired.

      This post was tricky for me for a lot of reasons, and one of them was that I don’t want to tell people “be nicey-nice and professional all the time.” I think disagreement and basic civility can go together. But it sure isn’t as easy as flaming each other and pretending the person on the other end of that screen isn’t a real person.

      • I think that’s the key, some people write things online that would never say face to face. I guess we’ve lost track of ‘treat others as you would wish to be treated.

  6. Spot on. Thanks for taking the time to put this together for us. Count me in. There really is no such thing as being anonymous, and people should remember that. If it’s on the web, it stays on the web.
    Best, Patricia

  7. Great post, and an important topic.
    My take- what people say reveals *their* heart and mind, and reveals nothing about me. Those who want to discuss the issues will discuss the issues. The rest are just throwing spitballs, and yet somehow do not realize that they add nothing to the conversation. Kinda’ sad, really.

  8. I agree. And, amen to Brian’s comment. What irks me is those who spew their rants without exposing who they really are; if you “say it” : “claim it”! And graciously accept commentary–why else did you put it out there! Lastly, don’t threaten me to “unfriend” me because you don’t agree with me or I don’t agree with you–it’s so second grade. Thank you for a great post…will share.

  9. I’ve had some comments left on my site that have almost brought me to tears. It’s enough to stop allowing comments! I know I need to toughen up. Thanks for turning me on to “Thank You Hater”. That was hilarious and made me realize this happens to everyone. “Thank you hater” will be my new mantra.

  10. In a way, I’m torn. Not because I don’t agree with this, because you’re absolutely on the mark about civility and the respect it engenders. What makes me ambivalent is the way we should react … and specifically our thoughts about all this.

    One the one hand I, too, want to stand up and battle the banality around us. Then, on the other hand, something tells me to just smile (or laugh) at the inanities that will probably never go away. Online or not, these have always been with us. Do I feel for the people hurt or put down? Of course! Yet, we all have our challenges and we can be grateful when we’re allowed to handle them in our own way (as did Mr. Stephens.)

    Part of me says that any organized battlefront will only fuel the crazies. Sometimes I also think we should just “lighten up!” But, I’m also incredibly thankful that there are vocal supporters of civility.

    Free speech, allowing others to be genuine even if “wrong,” and bending instead of breaking are hallmarks of freedom (IMHO.) All this being said, and I’m sure it won’t be popular with some, I again want to underscore that I’m in total agreement and that we as content creators can go about our business being authentically ourselves and let the chips fall where they may. πŸ™‚

    • An organized battlefront will definitely fuel the crazies. I think a disorganized battlefront may do some good. πŸ™‚

      You’ve captured many of my own conflicts. It’s not a simple “let’s take a few steps and there will be no more problem.” But I’ve also seen online communities that are well managed and those that are not, and I think we can learn some best practices.

      Trying to make people do anything on the web: silly and impossible. Trying to convince, otoh, can yield some fruit. Not for every user, of course.

      • Right Sonia. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being the best we can be while allowing ourselves some freedom too. Example. Perhaps our examples alone will do some good. Let’s just keep putting them out there. The crazies will always be with us, but perhaps we can occasionally throw a wet blanket over them.

      • There’s a difference between etiquette and legislation. Most of things we’re talking about here can’t really legislated, though people love to try. In the olden days, we’ve have some good old snubbing to deal with a lot of this stuff–but now snubbing is probably one of the issues, too.

        Still the best response to insensitiveness and cad-ness, must still be an icy retort that *seems* to misunderstand the intent of the speaker, assuming the best of him. Continue politely willfully misunderstanding until he see what a dope he’s being, or at least goes somewhere else.

        (Pardon my masculine pronouns. You know…)

  11. Once again, you’ve articulated a thoughtful call to action – it’s brave, real, stark and honest. I agree whole-heartedly with your manifesto. Point #4, Look for Connection, especially resonates with me because in so many instances there is common ground to explore – things are not black and white, right or wrong. We all have responsibilities as content creators. Here’s to civility!

  12. I’m sure I’ve been unfriended by some because of my political rants. Others have similarly shunned me online. But I feel I have to point out what I see as the political talking points and the more ridiculous positions some politicians and parties take on the issues. If my supposed friends can’t agree to disagree with me, without being disagreeable, then what does that really say?

  13. It is very true that in person we are forced to be much more civil. I recently got into a very heated online exchange with conservative opinion icon Laura Ingraham when she attacked my writing about women’s access to contraception as “Catholic bashing.” We exchanged a few volleys that were less than civil. Completely randomly, a few months later I was talking to a very friendly woman at a DC bar. Near the end of the conversation we realized who the other person was. Believe it or not, the most listened to woman in talk radio (and frequent FOX guest) was a very nice person when we were talking face to face. We even talked with civility about the very same topic we had disagreed about earlier that year. I won’t spam you with the link, but if you are interested, just google my name and the phrase “hugged by a conservative” or “A lesson in civility.” I am still moved by this experience and I hope we all can imagine the person we are responding to and write about them as if we were talking to them face-to-face.

    Keep it civil, keep it true,

    Bjorn Philip Beer
    Charlottesville, VA

    • What an awesome story, Bjorn, thank you for sharing that. πŸ™‚

      Isn’t that interesting — that a face to face conversation could progress with perfect civility and reasonable disagreement. I’ve found that often — the person who’s a flame warrior online is very different face to face.

      • Sonia:

        Maybe we should take advantage of our PC’s desktop space when typing! Maybe we could make our word processor window a bit smaller and have a picture of the person we are writing about right in front of us. Psychological studies show how seeing a face can sway our morality. Maybe just seeing a picture or imagining them there is enough to realize we need to talk TO and not THROUGH someone. πŸ™‚



    • That’s probably true. But if we make our own behavior maybe just 2% more civil, I still think it’s worth doing.

      But you know, I’m an incorrigible optimist. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you for so clearly and elegantly stating a rampant problem and ways we as writers can make an impact.
      The Manifesto makes me think of two favorite quotes:
      β€’ “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
      β€’ “What we think, we become.” Buddha

  14. Well said.

    I tend to live by the Platinum rule: Treat others like they want to be treated.

    This departure from the Golden rule puts me in the right mindset to understand who I’m talking to or interacting with instead of making it all about my feelings and hangups.

    By doing this, civility is assured simply because we have empathy towards the other person.

    This election cycle has seen some pretty poor examples of civility and it’s pretty decisive. Even at the local level, some people hide behind their keyboard and spew vile because there is no consequence or face to the person.

    To them, it’s some evil boogie man that must be destroyed.

    When we lose civility in debate, all of society loses because victory does to the loudest not the best, most rational argument.

    Bravo to Sonia and Copyblogger for putting forth the challenge to all of us. Maybe we need a civility oath like some Harvard MBA students did for newly minted MBA’s (

  15. Sometimes being civil makes me feel like a coward. John Franklin Stephens’ letter demonstrates bravery AND civility. It’s inspiring to think that it’s possible to be both. I wrote about this in April, ( and was shocked by the fact that a great many people who hold opinions diametrically opposed to my own sent messages thanking me for writing it.

    I love your Call To Action #5 because it addresses the idea that you can be both brave and civil. It’s okay to say what you think, as long as you do it respectfully. It’s a shame that seems so difficult for so many people.

    Thanks for using your powerful platform to champion civility.

  16. Well said! Basic respect for other people needs should always to be used – whether on the web or in person. It’s fun to phrase a pithy comment but if it’s about another person, let’s remember that the receiver IS a person too! Bullying comments are not civilized, they’re sized.

  17. Wow. I didn’t know it was so bad. I must live in fluffy land or something… I run an arts organization and am online with and for them all the time and rarely do I see anything disrespectful or mean. Yes, I have seen uncouth comments on YouTube, but I always assume they are uneducated or drunk… And, there are tons of spam that I have to delete daily, but nothing demeaning. Makes me grateful for the community that I do have!

    • You must just attract an intelligent and civil audience because you are yourself so intelligent and civil. πŸ™‚

      There are so many great corners of the web where real community can shine!

  18. Fully agree with the sentiment and tone of this post. Having lived in several countries I’ve concluded that in spite of such good intentions and initiatives such as this one, people will behave the way they’ve always behaved. This is particularly true in the case of the internet where we can all have almost complete anonymity.

    Humbly, I believe it all boils down to education and values. Generally and broadly speaking, the lower the level of education, the higher the likelihood for inflammatory, offensive and plain ugly language.

    Hopefully, both education and time will help bring all of us to higher level of decency and respect for all living things.

    • Sorry, John, but I have to disagree with you on this one. As a member of a family that has more high school dropouts than college graduates, I know for a fact that there are many uneducated people who are kind and thoughtful and would never dream of talking to another human being the way some supposedly educated people do. It’s not about education as much as it is about attitude. It’s true that uneducated people will use the more commonly known ugly language, but being able to express your narrow mindedness in bigger and more varied words only disguises it. Sly insults couched in snarkiness still hurt.

      • @April Galloway. I think you missed what I said about education …”Generally and broadly speaking, the lower the level of education, the higher the likelihood for inflammatory, offensive and plain ugly language”.

        That is by no means an all or nothing statement and I did not mean to belittle those without a college degree or any other type of formal education. Like you I know respectful and loving people with tons of degrees and some with little or no formal ‘school’ education.

        Perhaps what I should call it instead of ‘education’ is ‘worldly education’ which is not acquired in schools, but at home, in society AND schools.

        • Good morning, John.

          I think you hit the real root from whence lack of civility comes – ‘at home’. If children and young people are not raised with civility and expected to show civility towards others, there is a significantly greater likelihood that as adults they will lack civility whether on or off-line. Some will rise above their roots, but that’s a very difficult thing to do once bad habits are established.

          Kind regards,

  19. Sonia, this is a great call to action.

    I am in agreement that we need to have civility to the internet. I take the stance that you are entitled to your opinion but we to me it is important to explain your reasoning. I give full respect to anyone that disagrees or agrees with me as long as they explain themselves. By explaining your reason you get to see the view point from the other person. Compassion and understanding I believe comes from each and everyone of us seeing from both ourselves and the viewpoints of others. And such things don’t have to be a win / lose scenario, we all just have to work together to find common ground where we can establish a working relationship / community.

  20. Civility. That would be the act of not accusing someone of being a quote “homophobe” if they believe that it is immoral, right? While this piece is based around “content conversion” we do need to understand that pluralism fails and, pluralism is a gateway to hate. Stick with the content marketing conversion, what people do behind closed doors has nothing to do with it. And on a side note, if you are a pluralist, how is someone ever wrong? I just don’t get it I guess….Good post though.

  21. Thanks for this, Sonia. To speak to some commenters concerns related here. I read this as saying…Being civil doesn’t mean policing the internet. It means keeping YOUR corner of it clean and dignified. We all went to school, most of us worked in a company or other institution at some point. We know how to keep it clean and respectful. Ever try to rant, call names and curse out a school principal? Doesn’t go so well. People can disagree, it doesn’t mean they need to be disagreeable. Name calling is cheap and easy. Stupid people use stupid words. If you want to write copy for a living (which I assume is why many of you are here), this is the FIRST community that should know how to use better-than-average language to express themselves. And standing up for others once in awhile is just the right thing to do. Saying “it’s not my problem and I live in a bubble by choice” is the problem. A civil society is one in which we pull together to make our lives better collectively. Sometimes that requires us to stand up to those who threaten the peace.

  22. This needed to be said! Bravo! People hide behind computer screens thinking it gives free reign to be as nasty or mean as they want, when the fact is, it doesn’t. More importantly, if you don’t like what you are reading or what someone is saying or the tone or tenor or words someone is using on a blog, don’t read it. It is that simple. If you don’t have something nice or at least constructive to say, close the window!!

  23. Call to Action #5: Be real
    I don’t agree with this point. The people may feel offended from the language we use. So while marketing bu cursing we will lose all those people who are more sensitive and bit reactive and feel offended. And I believe this eventually turn out to be losing a big market share. Be real is fine but don’t let people to get offended.

    • Just so you know, normally we send all comments that use keywords instead of names right to the “Trash” folder.

      But I wanted to include your input, so for this once I approved it.

    • I welcome a more compassionate term that we could try to popularize. πŸ™‚ The behavior has been called “trolling” for as long as I’ve been online.

      • @Sonia Simone. I am not sure where I read it, but looking at reading the comments by some readers here, it is clear that membership numbers in the “Righteous Minority of Moral Authority” are growing by leaps and bounds, πŸ™‚

      • I’m a fan of behaviour description, not of person labelling.
        I think describing a set of behaviours by an identifiable term can be helpful if we have a common understanding of what it means.
        I’m ok with saying that certain behaviour is violent when it is violent behaviour. However, I won’t say that the person is violent. I personally regard trolling behaviour as a form of violent behaviour.
        So to say “trolling behaviour” when it’s trolling behaviour can be appropriate. I think that it crosses my personal line when it morphs into a character label, and used to describe the person exhibiting certain behaviour. Pointing to “trolling behaviour” is one thing. Calling the person a “troll” another.

    • What if they are a troll? Can’t you call it as you see it online? If not so, then why social media? lol.

  24. Best thing I ever did was become an unaffiliated voter. I thought I knew true freedom of thought away from party influence, but I was wrong until I did. Try it out to see what I mean. If you don’t like it, you can always change back.

  25. I love your response within a comment above “disagreement and civility can go together”. And, I love the premise of this manifesto. In general, we are creators, yet it is becoming a consistent trend to “react to”, instead of create from. May we concentrate on our craft; honoring full creative expression includes *respect* as we connect.

    • Nice one. I’d add that not only that they can do together, that the evidence of civility is the ability to disagree without diminishing the other.

  26. Wrote a review about an online security tool which didn’t pickup the malicious redirects in some WordPress core files i tested and i got bullied in the comments and via direct email by one of the founders.

    They teamed up with a supporter and bullied me at the same time.

    Then got a Pingback from a black hat SEO site just registered this month with a domain authority of 1 with my url’s embedded all over the place. Maybe a keyword competitor.

    Then got abused for not displaying the full content in my RSS feed.

    Must be Karma! hahaha

  27. Sonia, congratulations. We see the symptoms easily and in a calm mood, we all agree. But something sets us off and until we understand the root cause, we all remain prone to slipping. My experience with solving this one is to lean on The Golden Rule of Wisdom “First get centered and then you will see clearly the Answer.” It is a life-changer and it is my answer to your question about what would be in my manifesto. Keep up your good work!


  28. Oh, I get it. Here’s my input:

    Calling someone a troll is an example of name-calling. Perhaps you can instead articulate uncivil behaviors (name calling, hate speech, using the language of violence, etc.) instead of resorting to calling people names like ‘troll’.

    Model the behavior you’d like to see others adopt. That could help.

  29. Sonia, you are my hero. What a wonderful post.

    I am stunned by the comment by Ann Coulter. But since her candidate is talking about cutting Medicaid for people with disabilities; doesn’t believe in “unfunded mandates” like Special Education, Early Childhood Education; wants to turn Medicare and Medicaid over to the states (who even now are having a hard time coming up with their match money and have thousands of families on their waiting lists–how would you like to be from Alabama, Mississippi, or other of the poorer states?); wants to get rid of Obamacare when that is the program that helps families with “preexisting conditions” and lots more…

    I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that said: “Republicans only care about the rich; Democrats care about everyone.” Since I am sure Ann makes more than $250,000 a year it makes sense she would not care about those who are living on SSI and SSDI at the poverty level.

    This is personal. My son has autism and has had to endure the label of “mental retardation.”

  30. Thank you Sonia for writing this most excellent post, especially during US election time. I write mostly in the spiritual area, not religion, so much as spirituality, I for the most part, comments I get or emails I receive are positive and kind. But not always, on occasion, someone will vehemently disagree with something I have written and in no uncertain terms blast my post with a vicious comment, or email me or unsubscribe from my list with a SPAM complaint.

    I think that much of the bullying and snarkiness we see online is due in a large part to fear. Often, people who feel afraid start off a conversation with an attack (not always, for sure) but often enough to make a generalization from that idea. And then, those people are perceived as being powerful by some who are weak.

    And many times, I suspect, the aggressive nature of the ugly comments reflect some misdirected anger at somebody else. I am not trying to offer excuses here, I think the fewer ugly comments we read or hear the better off we are going to be. We can’t be the world police and get rid of every ugly thought in the world, but we don’t have to pay attention to them, and we can offer our content to the world in a civil, kind understanding way.

    Thank you again, Sonia.

  31. Here’s my contribution to your manifesto:

    1. I’ve learned so much about people who do not think like me because of the internet. I find it immensely valuable to learn about these people. The curiosity beast in me wants to know, so I’ll look to hang out where they are, run a series of interviews with them. The internet has made that happen. The knowledge I’ve gained is immense. It’s trained my eye to spot inconsistencies. It’s helped me to understand the why behind the what they think, say and do. It’s also challenged me to re-think my own ideas and beliefs. To see my own inconsistencies. To take myself less seriously. Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness should be required reading. So should Haidt’s Righteous Mind.

    2. We should all exercise restraint more than we do. Give your opinion only when you are asked for it. But only give it when it is with someone you have relational capital with. And when you do offer it stick to the facts–and not the person. Let them have the last word.

    3. Invoke the golden rule.

    Regarding the comment that you are preaching to the choir: while this is probably true, we all need a reminder. I do not practice courtesy at all times. Besides, hopefully when we behave ourselves in other places we can promote a different behavior that other people see and want to adopt: the whole point of your manifesto. Launch a “courtesy on the Internet” grassroots movement.

    Well said Sonia.

  32. This is so timely and so apt. I have the great good fortune to be a member of a board….going on, gosh, 12 years now, and it’s a bastion of civility, even-mindedness and the willingness to entertain another person’s POV on hot-button topics, even when one may not agree with it. But people are able to say “I see what you’re saying, but I can’t get behind A, B or C; what’s your thinking on that? Is there a common value point we hold?” And even if people don’t agree on certain issues, they’re able to say “We’re going to be in different camps on this topic, but I still like you as a person” and on the rare occasions a kerfuffle happens, people talk it out: “When you wrote this, it felt like an attack. What’s going on?” and people say, crazily enough, “I took your statement as _______; it’s a sore spot for me, and I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. What I meant to say/ask was X or Y.”

    And it’s spoiled me. I go on Facebook, and I have to skip past relatives’ and some acquaintances’ posts, people who I KNOW are usually kind, intelligent people because they share memes or the like that are just so…not factually true or inflammatory. When it comes to the presidential race, I don’t engage, but I think it’s imperative to address hate speech or racial/sexist/sexual orientation slurs or stereotypes. I was a high school teacher for many years, and I have many ex-students who are FB friends, and whenever I see a positive or negative statement, I make sure I either praise their open-mindedness or ask them why they are perpetuating hateful speech.

    People just think they can post anything and there won’t be repercussions. But if you genuinely ask someone “So why do you think this? Is this really what you think about women/men/(insert racial, ethnic or religion here/gays? Can you tell me why, because I always thought that you were a really kind person, and this statement seems so not like you.”

    And more people will be willing to have a conversation about it. I guess it’s the teacher-gene; you can take the woman out of the brick-and-mortar classroom, but she’ll just make the world her classroom.

    Thanks for this article, and for the message contained therein. It’s timely, it’s important and more people need to know that you can be strong, you can have deeply held opinions AND you can be civil about them. It’s not that hard.

  33. It would be lovely to think that we could impose rules on the internet, but we all know that in reality it’s the wild west out there. I have to fend off more and more rubbish every day. I’d sign up to your campaign in a heartbeat but there are lot of people who actually enjoy being disruptive, hateful etc.

  34. Very well put and very timely. I agree wholeheartedly that the climate of bullying and negativity is running rampant on the internet. It spills over into our “real” lives as well. When we feed the trolls we perpetuate it on the internet and into our own minds and lives. We need to get real about what we are putting out there in the world, the world is getting smaller because of the internet and that world is where we live our “real” lives.

  35. I hope you can see the distinction. Just because it’s a long-term practice to call people trolls and bullies doesn’t mean that it’s not name-calling!

    A more civil practice is to call out the unwanted behavior, not to give a derogatory label to the person who behaves that way.

    For example, it’s uncivil to call Ann Coulter a troll.

    It’s civil to say that calling someone a name (troll, bully, retard, etc.) is an example of uncivil behavior.

    Do you feel the difference?

    After all, it wasn’t so long ago that calling people ‘retarded’ was a regular part of the American lexicon. We’re evolving, hopefully. How long will it take us to look back and feel the same way about calling people trolls and bullies?

  36. I’m all for civility, and while I think we CAN change it for the better, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    That said, It’s much easier to change how you react to immaturity than it is to change how immature people act.

    Is that the best solution?

    Probably not.

    But why waste one second of your life on someone who clearly doesn’t get it? And probably will NEVER get it.

  37. I couldn’t agree more. Part of the problem is that it’s only been the past little while people have been paying attention to cyber bullies and trolls. The other problem is that many times others just shrug and say *Oh, that’s just so and so! Don’t let it bother you!* The minute you say something about it, you’re the one being unreasonable.

    I agree that things need to change. We need to look out for each other and accept that not all of us see things the same way. We really need to send the bullies and trolls packing, and stop excusing the behaviour. And we really, really need to stop making excuses.

  38. Seems anonymity also fuels “trolls”. One of the reasons I turned off WP comments and only have FB comments on my site. Thats helps keep people acting a bit more civilized as they are exposed in a bigger sense seeing how most use real names and their comments will be seen by their friends too.

    In a world where personal brands are evolving, transparency will help or hurt a person.

    Like the zen saying goes, don’t waste energy fighting darkness when you can just turn on the light.

  39. I’m in!

    I wrote my manifesto on this a while back – How to Create World Peace With Your Blog, after a blogger friend was told his guest post was being refused because the blog owner had discovered he was gay. Seriously. That really happened. I rolled out my nondiscrimination policy right then.

    I’m for using the Internet to create the world we want — a world of acceptance and positive vibes. I can have guest posters on my blog from Pakistan, even though our countries officially hate each other. And when I do that, I think the world becomes a tiny bit nicer place to live.

    I’m open to all views, including violently disagreeing with my point of view…as long as you can be polite about it. But I do delete those who aren’t respectful, and will continue to do so. We don’t need that.

    If you couldn’t say it to your mother in your living room, you might want to refrain from saying it on blog comments. The whole world can read them, y’know.

  40. Hmmmm very good stuff. I can’t think of anything to add because I’m thinking…. I’m saying hmmm because I’ve sort of taken a break from my blog which was all about this stuff, in all areas of life, but it’s still getting lots of traffic and shares, at least some posts, and I’m having trouble focusing on my new blog and what, exactly to say. Because I keep coming back to the stuff like you’ve written here. Maybe because this is really important stuff.

  41. I’m a big fan of Copyblogger and essentially agree with the the 5 points & the spirit in which this was written but not a big fan of the PC world. I’m in a spiritual community ( whoa 95% libearal leaning) and a conservative and often all the tolerance and inclusiveness talk goes out the window when commenting about people with a differant social/political persuasion. I find it truly amazing actually. What about Bill Maher calling a conservative female media figure a C&*t? or Eva Longoria tweeting that Romney is a Tw&*? No outcry anywhere except a few conservative blogs. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I know it’s not your job to point those examples out but being called a ‘retard’ seems to come more from a place of ignorance than hate. Now on the other hand, being called a profanity seems to have a bit more emotionalism attached to it. What I see is that more and more people are becoming the exact thing they are supposedly against. So although I agree with the 5 points you made and it would be refreshing and civil not to see all the garbage on the internet the esential problem is much deeper and just becuase it is not being used in print doesn’t mean it is not existing in someones heart.

  42. I would love to see a wp plugin developed that would automatically add this as a page to our wordpress sites – like the google privacy plugin. I totally agree that the level of civility has gotten intolerable and that it shows first on the internet. We should each do anything we can to change that. Would be great even on comments if we could state that all “mean” comments will be eliminated.

  43. Sonia,
    Thank you for the wonderful work you and your associates have done to help extend the skills of so many copywriters. I have a comment about #2 in your recent Civility Manifesto. I agree with your position about the comment aimed at our president. It was definitely inappropriate. I’d be interested in your view of the ‘label’ our president gave to his opponent in a recent issue of Rolling Stone Magazine by calling him a “bulls***er”. Do you believe this is not the kind of talk that one would expect from the leader of the free world? I know there is much animus in the political arena and that is why I choose to be a political atheist, but I was surprised to hear this from our leader. What is your view? Thanks again for sharing your wonderful talent.

    • If Coulter had used the word “bullshitter” I actually wouldn’t have had a problem with it.

      The word she used demeans an entire group of people. It’s like any racial slur.

      Sometimes we disagree, and sometimes the language is strong. I don’t mind that. I mind terms that demean entire groups of people simply for being who they are. That’s the sort of language I believe we should avoid.

  44. Sonia – I’ve always admired what you do and what and how you write, and this is another beautiful example. Well done, thank you.

    While this might be a little too close to the viewpoint of some politicians…I sometimes wish the Internet was “pay to play.” There are obviously many reasons that it should never cost money, or be taxed, but stay with me for a second…

    I’ve been online forever too, going back to Usenet forums and listservs where a bunch of other HP/UX geeks and I used to answer questions, trade tips and give out best practices. (That’s not name calling if I include myself as a geek, right?) Even though it was free, there was lots of mutual respect, and lots of great stuff happened there – long before most of the world picked up on the ol’ WWW. Even that very specialized group got “infiltrated” over the years to where I finally gave up.

    So anyway, as one example of why I mentioned the “pay” part above – currently, I’m a member of a paid mastermind forum. It isn’t that expensive, but it isn’t $5/month either.

    I can count on one hand the number of comments that aren’t civil in the space of a year on that very active forum. So while I’m obviously exaggerating a bit to make a point, it does make me think twice about what “free” (combined with anonymous) does to the Internet sometimes.

    I think your manifesto is an excellent start and movement in the right direction. Thank you again.


  45. I agree with the desired outcome of the post – but find the term “civility” problematic. I know what you MEAN, I think, but that’s the problem… we all define words of that nature in our own terms and by our own experience.

    For example, I do not believe that a homosexual lifestyle is morally right, because of convictions flowing out of my faith.

    Am I being “uncivil” to say so? Many may think I am, but I do not.

    My reason for my beliefs is not hatred, or deep-seated bigotry, or fear, or brainwashing (contrary to how many try to spin the issue). I have my OWN deeply held spiritual beliefs that come from MY OWN understanding of the scriptures and a desire to think and behave in a way that honors Jesus Christ.

    Am I (and many others like me) condemned instantly as “uncivil” for holding to a belief out of conviction?

    If so, that is problematic, at best.

    • I would say you are not wrong in having your own beliefs about behaviors and living according to them. The problem comes when people use hate speech in regards to individuals who live in ways they do not like. I don’t think it’s wrong to dislike a behavior. I do think its wrong to dislike a person simply because of his behaviors.

  46. I love how it says, “Sing your own song. You don’t need to be polite or soft-spoken. You don’t even need to be inoffensive”. Someone once said, “Variety is the spice of life,” and I believe that to be true. I admire how it doesn’t say to be polite, sit straight, chew with your mouth closed etc. If you are a crazy, cranky old lady down the street, so be it. If you are the soft-spoken girl in math class with the pigtails, so be it. I think if we act the same way in real life as we do on the internet, it’s FINE; it’s WHO YOU ARE. I’m not saying go out and be rude and downright disrespectful because it’s who you are. Don’t go out and say things just to make people feel bad; if you have something you feel strongly about, say it, although it may be controversial. The stuff that counts usually is. Please remember this goes both ways. If you put yourself out there someone is going to be there to meet you because, just as you are entitled to your opinions, other people are to.

  47. The best way to stop yourself from giving into the ways of trolls is to focus on making helpful, valuable, customer- centered content. It’s hard to have time or energy to hate when you’re using it to make good stuff. πŸ™‚

  48. Well-written article and THANK YOU for adding that it ISN”T just one particular political party that is doing the name-calling. I know Ann Coulter makes a lot of people angry. However, I get just as incensed over some of the awful insulting remarks made by Bill Maher – he’s worse, in my opinion. In addition, I got off facebook because I saw a post from a former friend who had a post on his wall that “All Republicans should just die already.” When I asked him privately about it, his response was to block me from his friend’s list. Well, good riddance! I don’t need friends like that. I’ve seen the C-word levied at Republican women like Sarah Palin and continuing slurs against George W. Bush – ad nauseum. I’m sick and tired of that. It’s vicious from all political sides. How sad that those people who say that kind of garbage I mentioned above actually delight in their actions.

    • I haven’t paid attention to Bill Maher since I saw him make a vile sexist comment on his show to Carol Moseley Braun maybe 15 years ago. (She was very gracious about it.) He’s the cheap shot king, imo.

      We all have our different places where we draw the line, he’s on the other side of mine.

  49. I run a popular classic car blog and I moderate the comments. I am so happy to say that after nearly two years of
    publishing my blog I have not rejected a single comment from a reader (only some spam that leaked through). My
    readers are kind to each other even when they disagree.

    I am shocked when I go to some other sites and see the way people talk to each other. I do not return to those sites.
    I suspect those people would not talk to each other that way in person. In the old days we called this “flaming”.
    Now it is just rude and unnecessary.

  50. Thank you for an awesome manifesto, for raising awareness, and for spawning a healthy conversation.
    You asked what would be in our manifesto. Here’s mine:

    Integrate diversity
    – Diversity is potential strength, diversity alone is not enough
    – Seek and unify what’s mutually important
    – Weave threads of diversity into strength

    Uplift humanity
    – Assert compassion, respect, dignity
    – Be vigilant for tendencies that reduce others
    – Transform patterns of denigration and hate

    – Uphold a vision of a brighter future
    – Direct attention and energy towards building
    – Don’t feed ignorance but invite it to participate in the vision

  51. Bravo, Sonia! Because of the vitriol and nastiness online, I NEVER read the comments at the bottom of news stories, even if it’s a subject I’m really interested in. Wouldn’t it be nice if people could share their ideas and beliefs without all the ad hominem garbage that so often goes along with it.

  52. Human nature doesn’t seem to manifest online so much as cowardice or courage. It boils down to a single human bean’s nature: asshole or steward.

    Stewardship is missing. Shock and darkness cover the conversation so heavily that a steward cannot be heard.

  53. Hi This is a great post.
    I m totally agree with this.
    And see the response is also good and with great value of thoughts.
    Thanks for posting this .

  54. Thank you Sonia for your wonderful post! I agree with all your ideas about civility on the web. I agree very much that we do not need to show our civility be agreeing and not showing disagreement. Most of the times it is all about the very how rather than the what which is communicated. I would also add a few ideas on civility on the web (as well as in real life conversations) to yours and those mentioned already: Showing empathy and efforts to understand the other with opposing views, not addressing the person holding ideas but ideas themselves, seeing common points not just ones that divide people. Thanks again!

  55. Right on! Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve been astounded at how mean and vicious people can be. I’m always open to debate, and willing to hear an opposing view, so long as we stay focused on tearing at the information and getting at the truth of a matter (the heart of rhetoric), and not on character assassination and name calling. Big minds discuss ideas, small minds discuss people, even smaller minds attack people simply because they are different or because you don’t agree with them. If we focus on discussing ideas, learning, sharing, and uncovering the truth, we can build something that will positively and profoundly affect our collective experience. Here’s to strength in numbers!!

  56. Here here and hallelujah! I just wish we could get the right people to read this. Your audience already knows this because they are good peeps, as the comments so clearly show.

  57. Very well written piece on an important topic, Sonia.

    I have been dealing with a bully/troll for a several months now, I have blocked him on all social channels but he continues to troll. bully and bash. I have not responded for months and he still persists. Not sure what possesses people to fixate and continue harassing others.

  58. We ALL have to be better, to rise above, to set the tone and example. Yes, the internet is an open forum, but that shouldn’t give people license to be blatantly hateful. Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t against the law. But each and every day, we can stand up and do the right thing … popular or not.

  59. Byron Katie says that we call everyone that agrees with us a friend and everyone that disagrees with us an enemy. This is because we are already always listening – we have predefined ideas of what is right and what’s wrong, which stops us from really hearing what the other side has to say. Using slurs and derogatory language comes from the need to be right and being desperate to have others see your point of view. At least that’s what I tell myself when people use the N word with me. It has taken me a long time to see that people that hold different ideas are not attacking me but just stating a point of view and if I really listen I can learn something new. Civility is knowing how to disagree with someone without respecting them.

  60. Another thing: Accept criticism. That is a part of the equation that is missing. Not just “embrace diversity,”
    That’s critical, Sonia. Sometimes, when you criticize a high profile figure, they will come down and bully you. They might call you a hater, or make a limp-dick ad hominem attack on you (or a legal threat., Ahem, to my friends at Daylight that sent me a C&D on a moslty positive product review)
    Instead, often the haters have a point.
    Who are they? etc.

  61. I keep coming back to read the comments to see if someone has put into words my response–since I can’t quite figure it out for myself. I believe in the sentiment of this manifest, but something rankles nevertheless…

    Here’s a letter to the editor of the NY Times that seems related to the discussion:

    It’s a great letter from a Berkeley professor, which ends: ” The cure for speech you don’t like is speech you do, not less speech for everyone.”

  62. Good morning, Sonia.

    I definitely support most of what you say and would be all for some sort of civility clause., manifesto or whatever. The only thing where I take exception – and even them it’s only mildly – is in relation to the use of profanities. I know the language has been around since time immemorial, but it’s the modern day connotations that cause me offence. That’s not to say people shouldn’t ever use it, that’s their choice.

    I exercise mine by either tuning out or turning off (pressing the little x at the top of the post!) when language I don’t like is used. Even when the author is someone I like and otherwise admire. I would most definitely have a civility manifesto for my site with a very clear caveat that anyone may comment, but that all profanities – whether used biblically or not – will not be accepted. It’s not a problem, though – I have spam filter to make sure they don’t get through!

  63. Sonia, I have to say I believe this post hurts your credibility in my eyes. It is incredibly disingenuous to write an article that was obviously meant to capitalize on the Ann Coulter’s use of the word “retard.” There are a couple of things strip this post of all integrity.

    Number one is the fact that in the same “Call to Action” where you said “rather than link to the slur” you then linked to a “juicy insult” that was aimed at Ann Coulter.

    You want us as content marketers to “stop using the language of trolls” and stop supporting people who use such language but at the same time give some nice link building to someone who “[hates] giving that attenuated mantis of fuckwittage any ink.” She then continues to reapply the exact meaning Ann Coulter intended in using the word retard to using Coulter’s name. (Trollish? I think so.)

    She even admits that as a mother of a special needs child, she herself had to struggle to not use the word “retard” in the way it commonly is used. The word retard does not target those with mental handicaps unless it specifically is used for that purpose.

    I have a mental handicap, not as severe as John Stevens but still I have a mental handicap. You are being a hypocrite and I’m calling you to action; stop using the language of trolls, stop pandering to the masses over a non issue, and stop using a blog that I thoroughly enjoy to wax political.

    We are a diverse group and that is our strength but this post in no way honors that. I’ve am being long winded but will conclude with a final point, Where were you and your Civility Manifesto when Bill Maher says his nasty, degrading words of hatred or Jason Biggs when he tweets slurs against Ann Romney? Sadly, I believe your past content will show you silent. Prove me wrong?

    • Thanks for mentioning Jason Biggs. I agree. He and his wife have said horrible things, and not just about Ann Romney but also about abortion and other issues.

      • You are absolutely right, JC. I chose the Ann Romney one simply to complement Sonia’s use of a “slur” against Barack Obama.

  64. There’s a lot going on in this discussion, but I think one of the simplest ways to take something from it and use it in our content and travels around the web is this: Don’t feed the beast. The best way to starve a troll is to ignore them. People in comment threads from YouTube to G+, FB, Twitter, generally don’t understand (yet) that a person without a face and other tell tale signs of a troll aren’t real people. The reason YouTube is rife with disgusting, immature comments is that YouTube accounts don’t have to be tied to a real person. It is troll Valhalla for that reason alone.

    People who don’t know how to spot that they’ve been trolled are feeding the beast by responding as if the troll was a real person giving their real feelings. It might even be true, but they’re looking for a reaction and detracting from any serious discussion to get attention. Even well-meaning people are trolling when they attempt to get their point across with the language of the troll – they must be ignored and their “food” taken away to get set straight. No response is the perfect response in all these cases.

    IRL the news channels focus on the dregs of society because people like car wrecks. Until we demand that news gets back to less punditry and more (actual) balance and integrity in reporting, the problem will continue. We feed that beast by watching those channels.

  65. I am too sick of the extremely impoliteness (on the verge of hate) that spews from the mouths of Republicans and Democrats. There is a way, like you say, to get your point across with dignity and passion.

    I come from a family where one parent is a staunch Democrat and the other one is a staunch, STAUNCH Republican.

    And sometimes the harshness between the two can be overwhelming. I just tend to let them get it out of their system and politely go along my way with my own views! πŸ˜‰

    Robert Andrew.

  66. Hi Sonia.

    As a firm believer in freedom of speech I mistakenly thought that I need to give commenters complete freedom to say whatever they want on my blog. However, I realized that there is a difference between respecting someone’s *political* right to say whatever they want and giving them a *platform* to say it. My blog is where I can cultivate civility and promote a healthy culture for all my readers. Online communities are more selective and curated. They’re more like clubs than neighborhoods.

    Having said that, I have 2 concerns about dealing with trolls:

    1) Dismissing any criticism as trolling: Some people are rude and inconsiderate when they express their opinions. That doesn’t mean I should dismiss them. There could be a valid and valuable criticism that they’re voicing. I prefer to understand the substance of the comment without being turned off by their style.

    2) Assuming that trolls harbor ill intentions: Many trolls are intelligent, but struggle with execution. This translates into bitterness since they feel they can do better and are entitled to more recognition than me. I wouldn’t hold their lack of accomplishments against them, but use their intelligence to my advantage: as a means to learn how I can improve to meet their expectations.

    Incidents of trolling can turn into extremely enriching experiences, where we become more honest with ourselves, willing to listen to what others have to say, and responding in a way that wins them over and helps them realize that there’s a better way to express themselves.

    I’ve had several brushes with trolls and I usually respond politely. Without me directing their attention to how rude they were, they voluntarily apologize for their initial remarks and tone.

    So I would add: Trolling is an opportunity to promote civility. Use it. πŸ™‚

  67. great article. I totally agree.

    my business itself ( has been the subject of cyber bulling. a competitor who never has even have tried the product bashed it just to promote themselves. its vicious and selfish and it has had a negative effect.

  68. In the end it should come down to using common sense but because we can “hide” behind a keyboard some prefer to using pile-on troll techniques or outright flaming to bully and/or demean others. Keep it civil and create relationships, meaningful dialogue, and respect from readers/peers. Enjoyed this civility list Sonia!

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