Is Incivility Ever Ethical?

The Center for Media Engagement and Media Ethics Initiative Present:

Is Incivility Ever Ethical?

Dr. Gina Masullo Chen

Assistant Professor of Journalism
University of Texas at Austin

October 16 (Tuesday)  ¦  3:30-4:30PM  ¦  BMC 5.208

CC0 Public Domain

The current debate over incivility in the public discourse often leaves out an important component – sometimes the most ethical choice is to speak out, even if some people view your speech as uncivil. The need to be civil at all costs can become a tool of the privileged to silence and symbolically annihilate the voices of those with less power in society, specifically women, people of color, or those from other marginalized groups. Media outlets can perpetuate this silencing by focusing on the “civility” – or lack thereof – of the message, rather than the content. Compounding this problem is the issue that people define what’s uncivil in varied ways – including everything from a raised voice to hate speech. UT Austin Assistant Professor Gina Masullo Chen will draw on potent examples from today’s headlines, including Colin Kaepernick’s “take-a-knee” protest during the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice and some politicians’ refusal to speak to their angry constituents. Her argument is not that incivility is good. Rather, she asserts that sometimes the ethical cost of silence is greater than the normative threat to civil discourse from what some may perceive as incivility.
Dr. Gina Masullo Chen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and the Assistant Director of the Center for Media Engagement, both at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the online conversation around the news and how it influences social, civic, and political engagement. She is the author of Online Incivility and Public Debate: Nasty Talk and co-editor of Scandal in a Digital Age. She is currently writing her third book, The New Town Hall: Why We Engage Personally with Politicians. She spent 20 years as a newspaper journalist before becoming a professor.
The Media Ethics Initiative is part of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow MEI and CME on Facebook for more information. Media Ethics Initiative events are open and free to the public.