Charting the Industry: Online Incivility Tunes Site Visitors Out

A key civility study finding: 38% of respondents say they’ve stopped going to sites where incivility has occurred (see chart below for full data). Do PR professionals agree that incivility is growing online? PR News talked to digital experts to find out.

Weber Shandwick’s annual Civility in America study, released in June 2011, shows increased incivility in politics, the workplace, classroom, businesses and online. Of course, as purveyors of social media, PR pros should be most interested in the online kind of “civil unrest.”

According to Christian Olsen, VP of digital and social media at Levick Strategic Communications, incivility is definitely prevalent online, and he does see an uptick. Olsen cites a tough job market, the economy and a partisan political atmosphere as possible contributing factors.

The anonymity factor is cited by Donna Maurillo, director of communications at the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, Calif. On sites that allow visitors to post under a screen name that can be changed frequently, “there can be an awful lot of mudslinging,” says Maurillo.

Reynol Junco, associate professor of the department of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, takes a more scientific view. One of the issues at play is the “online disinhibition effect,” says Junco, who has researched this phenomenon.

“This can lead to a sense of depersonalization online that allows users to say things they otherwise wouldn’t say in person,” he says.

So how can you cure incivility online? Here’s an amalgam of tips:

Junco: Help people recognize that it is impossible for others to discern the tone of their messages and that something that doesn’t seem offensive to you at the time, may be interpreted as being extremely offensive to the other person.

Olsen: When things get rowdy, focus on the problem that’s being raised, not the person who is being uncivil.

Maurillo: Let other users flag comments that are abusive, and then a moderator can make the final decision about removing the post. PRN

[Editor’s Note: Looking for more content on social media and PR? Find it at PR News’ Subscriber Resource Center.]


Christian Olsen,; Donna Maurillo,; Reynol Junco,