The Social Citizens' Guide to Civil Communication

ASHA Civility Toolkit: Background

With the advent of social media and the continued popularity of online communication platforms, we have become publishers. We have a digital megaphone, and from the looks of things in the digital space these days, we, as a society in general, appear to have whole-heartedly embraced it. But, are we using it well? Are we being civil and respectful to one another? Are we fostering open communication and the meaningful exchange of ideas? Is there a downside to all this social media communication?

A recent poll conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released on February 13, 2019, indicated that more than half of Americans – 53 percent – say they were subjected to hateful speech and harassment online in 2018. And 37 percent reported severe attacks, including sexual harassment and stalking. For one third of Americans, online abuse was in response to their sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, gender identity or disability, the survey found. In politics, personal life, and professional circles, it seems like the “age of outrage” has taken hold.

How does all this impact ASHA members? In our own survey of members, when asked “In the past 12 months, have you experienced uncivil discourse on social media?” 53 percent of members said “yes” relative to their professional life, and 36 percent said “yes” relative to their personal life. Sixty-seven percent of ASHA members said that they have changed the way they communicate on social media, as a result of incivility.

Like most organizations, ASHA maintains a roster of social media platforms to communicate with members and the broader public about issues of concern in the communication sciences and disorders (CSD) realm. But those six platforms are just the tip of the social media iceberg that ASHA members can and often do use to communicate, converse, and collaborate. While ASHA has established codes of conduct and behavior for its own official online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we are not able to establish or enforce such codes of acceptable conduct on third-party social sites, such as private Facebook groups.  Members, however, tell us that they are often frustrated by the lack of civility in the exchanges that occur on these sites, and that conversations are occurring that are diametrically opposed to the civility codes of conduct ASHA espouses, conversations that sometimes fail to uphold the cultural competency standards that also are cornerstones of the ASHA professional code of conduct. At all times, ASHA members must remember the Ethics Principle that states:

“Individuals shall uphold the dignity and autonomy of the professions, maintain collaborative and harmonious interprofessional and intraprofessional relationships, and accept the professions' self-imposed standards.”

We believe that ASHA and its members can and should lead the way, and set a strong example, in promoting and practicing civil discourse as a requisite for meaningful and effective communication. Who are we, both in the limelight on prominent social media platforms, as well as in the shadows of private Facebook groups, or other less public social media channels? Shouldn’t our standards be the same for both? 

With a vision of “Making effective communication, a human right, accessible and achievable for all,” ASHA wants to provide the tools and resources for members to not only conduct themselves with an appropriate degree of civility and professionalism on widely trafficked as well as private social media channels, but also to help promote civil discourse wherever and whenever conversations are occurring. As an evidence-based professional society, we have learned that current research shows a lack of civility significantly impedes the robust exchange of ideas and is an obstacle to working through controversial issues to reach meaningful and productive conclusions.

The tools, templates, and resources in this toolkit, and the guiding principles that underlie its foundation, are intended to help members cope with online environments that do not reflect ASHA’s standards of harmonious professional conduct; the cultural competency principles we espouse; and the respectful ways that we can agree to disagree, when necessary. As CSD professionals, our responsibility includes conducting ourselves appropriately online, especially when even “private” Facebook groups are not truly private. We welcome your participation and feedback.

ASHA Corporate Partners