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A plea for civility in the Twitterverse

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Kamloops Daily News

IN 1988, Hugh MacDonald stood at the front of a lecture hall in a small Ontario college and, after a moment of silence, looked up at his students and said, "Society, as we know it, is ending."

It was an unexpected statement from a man who was there to teach music appreciation -- and to say his words were lost on most of the 18- and 19-year-olds in his classroom would be an understatement.

But MacDonald may have been onto something.

As he explained to his students, social structures were changing -- crumbling. Norms that once governed how people interacted in public were eroding. A new society was taking over.

Today, almost 25 years later, it seems MacDonald's prophecy was spot on.

One only needs to look at Twitter for proof.

Twitter began as a simple micro-blogging platform, a way for users to post updates about their daily lives. It is still a satisfying source for that, and for information about news, weather and traffic alerts that affect each of us.

But to get to those worthwhile updates, one must sift through an increasing number of profane, mean-spirited, pornographic and just plain inappropriate posts. Search "Kamloops" on Twitter and you'll find plenty of examples like these:

I find this city incredibly ugly. Kamloops Icantbetheonlyone

F you Kamloops transit

The people of Kamloops ugh f gonna see 403 rednecks tonight

Charming, isn't it?

And then there are those who post vulgarity under the guise of humour, taking a snippet of something they heard or read and tweeting it with the accompanying hashtag #OutOfContext.

Last week, a Twitter user posted just such a tweet about a nine-year-old boy who collected food for the Kamloops Food Bank. We won't even repeat it but it wasn't at all funny.

People don't seem to care what they say online. Every passing thought, regardless of how crude or offensive or potentially damaging, is tossed out for the world to see.

Is this what Hugh MacDonald was talking about? Certainly, the rise in negative, snarky, online behaviour points to cracks in our society.

It has become so noticeable, there's a movement out of the U.S. to restore some level of civility to Twitter (if it was ever there to begin with) by encouraging positive dialogue for an entire 24 hours.

On Aug. 14, supporters of PositivelySocial are asking Twitter users to ditch the negativity for some constructive, productive social interaction.

They're not asking people to abandon their opinions, just to stop spewing vulgarity and hate all over the Internet. Basically, to stop being so darned nasty and ill-mannered.

And, really, is that too much to ask?

#WeDon'tThinkSo

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2012 A7

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