Perceptions of Incivility in Public Discourse
Although concerns over incivility in public discourse are widely shared by citizens and scholars alike, there is lack of consensus over what incivility is. This chapter examines how the lay public perceives incivility in online comments, using an online survey to track differences in perceptions of specific types of uncivil speech. This chapter focuses on name-calling, vulgarity, lying accusations, pejoratives for speech, and aspersion. The authors compare these types of incivility to two different types of civil controls—one based on sentiments that had strong public consensus around them and one based on factual but non-emotive materials. They find that members of the public do not parse incivility in the various dimensions that have preoccupied scholars. There is variance in incivility perceptions when individual online comments are evaluated, but there are also patterns that suggest name-calling and vulgarity are the two types of speech most likely to be considered uncivil. One demographic factor that further shapes how people evaluate speech acts is gender. The possible implications for gender differences in incivility perceptions are discussed.