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Connected AND Protected: How Online Incivility Threatens Our Audience Bonds

Author: perkinsk | Image: perkinsk

Technology has obviously made it possible for journalists to connect with their audiences in incredibly powerful ways. Rather than waiting for letters or emails to the editor to gauge reactions to what we publish, we have social media comments, message boards, and online communities providing us with a steady stream of feedback on EVERYTHING we do. Those same conduits for conversation have also connected our audiences to each other, constructing virtual town halls in every corner of the web. At their best they can encourage open discourse and the sharing of a range of opinions that can both broaden personal viewpoints and raise common concerns.  


But while that discourse can be a vital feedback outlet for media professionals to understand the wants and needs of their audience and gauge how well they’re meeting them, the anonymity of those channels has also bred a level of incivility unlike ever before. Opinions once expressed in small social circles or in letters that may or may not ever be published in the op ed section of your local paper are now blasted out to millions in the form of article comments and social media posts. The anonymity and immediacy of the medium feels both democratizing and terrifying as online communities have become a haven for vicious attacks and public shaming. The practice of raking total strangers over the coals in public forums is so ubiquitous that we had to give it a ‘Net-appropriate name—trolling—and memorialize it in movies, TV and song.


You are somebody that I don’t know

But you’re takin’ shots at me like it’s Patrón

And I’m just like, damn, it’s 7 AM

Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out

But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out

And I’m just like, “Hey, are you okay?”

—Taylor Swift, “You Need to Calm Down”

So as the tools designed to facilitate open conversation are turned into weapons of bullying and intolerance, how can media outlets protect their audiences and promote online civility? And how does that divisive behavior threaten the relationships we have with our audiences and what can we do to maintain those valuable connections? These are the topics panelists Karla Armendariz, Lolly Bowean and Ian Stinson explore as part of the 2019 Greenlee Summit’s breakout session on keeping audiences intact in the face of rampant incivility. We’ll tackle the challenges social media, community forums and our own on-site commenting tools present as we try to balance maintaining that vital feedback loop and surface solutions for how to handle situations when things go awry as well as ideas for how we can use our outlets to promote positive interactions between our audience members. And hopefully, together, we’ll answer the question, do we all just need to calm down?

Melissa Inman is the Vice President of Content Strategy & Operations for Meredith Digital, developing editorial programs and partnerships that expand Meredith’s engagement and reach among women across media platforms. In this role, Melissa is responsible for setting the overarching content strategy across the Meredith portfolio of lifestyle sites, and oversees the execution of that strategy by editorial teams across the country.