PBS host Alexander Heffner speaks on impact of social media, political gridlock

Alexander Heffner, host off PBS' "The Open Mind," spoke on campus as a part of the Robertson School of Media and Culture's Speaker Series. Photo by Jon Mirador

Georgia Geen, Executive Editor

Heffner spoke in Cabell Library lecture hall on Tuesday evening. Photo by Jon Mirador

Host of PBS’ “The Open Mind” Alexander Heffner spoke on the impact of social media, political gridlock on disinformation and what he considers a “breakdown of civil discourse” to a full house at Cabell Library on Tuesday night.

Here are the highlights. Excerpts have been edited for space.

The definition of civility and civil discourse

From my perspective, civility is not about only decorum or manners. Sometimes when you hear it discussed in mainstream media, those are the first associations. You don’t think about the storied history, [or] our long-term objective to achieve a civil society. It’s an ongoing pursuit, just like our constitution and declaration imply.

The impact of misinformation and social media on civil discourse

The fact that politics have become so entangled in social media means we have to assess it. Not censor it, but take steps to assess it. I think an informed citizenship is the most important thing in our day-to-day lives. When Donald Trump is making decisions on Twitter, that is the game we’re part of, whether we like it or not.

“The fact that politics have become so entangled in social media means we have to assess it,” Heffner said. “Not censor it, but take steps to assess it.” Photo by Jon Mirador

We have to understand that every single movement we make online is going to define this next generation, maybe even some of the most pivotal policy decisions in terms of peace and war, economic growth and depression, health and security, the most important criteria for our lives and livelihoods as human beings.

How bigotry creates gridlock in political discussions

Bigotry is the number one source of gridlock, and it’s the principal reason we have a polarized media complex right now.

The polling data is very clear from the perspective of Americans that they’re not pleased with the unending bigotry that emanates from Twitter, and specifically Trump’s use of Twitter. The absence of context is what’s killing us, people’s refusal to modify the modus operandi — now flowing into our bloodstream of pouncing on each other — when in fact we should listen to each other about how we came to form our convictions and the origin of our stories.

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