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Fake News Resources: Civil Discourse

This guide explores what fake news is, how it affects us, and how faculty can incorporate information about fake news in their lesson plans.

Why is it so hard to be civil when talking about fake news?

Fake news is designed to hit you exactly in the emotions where you are weakest. They'll make you feel something, and from a statistical and psychological perspective that often means that the specific emotion being targeted is anger. That anger tends to spread like a wildfire, makes being neutral very difficult, and paradoxically prevents communication between the various sides of an argument as echo chambers develop to reinforce a side's particular stance on a topic.

Echo Chamber: A closed group of people (including media organizations) who support one another in a particular belief and keep out opposing beliefs.

Civil discourse is the process of showing respect and facilitating a back-and-forth conversation with people who may have differing opinions or beliefs. It is a tool for objectivity and understanding meant to prevent isolation in echo chambers and charged language.

Echoes in the Algorithm

We need to actively search for opposing viewpoints because algorithms (the artificial intelligence behind your social media feeds, ads, and recommendations), tend to create echo chambers that only expose us to ideas and opinions we agree with.

Strategies for Civil Discourse

To have a civil discussion about controversial issues, it's important for all sides to be on their best behavior.  Make sure your arguments are based on reason and evidence.   

Here are some ground rules that will help:

  1. Be mindful of your own behavior. Notice how you internally are reacting/responding when others speak. Pay attention to how your words and your silence are impacting the experience for others in the group.
    What are you doing to create a welcoming environment for differing opinions? Are you looking at each speaker and giving your full attention? Are you listening with an open mind – momentarily putting aside what you will say next?

    Are you asking clarifying questions?  Are you being careful not to take over the conversation by talking longer than others? Are you refraining from subtle, but disrespectful behavior or not paying attention when others speak?
  2. Wait to be recognized by the moderator before speaking.  This allows time – before you speak – for reflection on what the previous speaker(s) have said.
  3. Don’t interrupt or talk over someone else who is speaking, even when you are excited.
  4. No side conversations. They are disrespectful to the speaker and distract listeners from the person who has the floor.
  5. Listen for content in the statements of others, especially when you disagree. Listen for what the speakers are trying to communicate, even if they aren’t expressing their points concisely.
  6. Find common ground. Identify and call attention to areas of agreement.
  7. Follow the direction of the discussion. Don’t repeat what already has been said. Relate your comments to those of previous speakers.
  8. Ask questions. Don’t assume that you know what someone else means. Ask the speaker to help you understand perspectives different from your own.
  9. Don’t embarrass yourself or disrespect others by making demeaning or inappropriate comments, facial expressions, or gestures. No eye rolling, sighing, or checking out of the conversation.
  10. Differentiate between facts and opinions. Both are valid when expressed appropriately.

Adapted from Setting Ground Rules - Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions   by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

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