It’s Hard To Be Civil While Swimming In A ‘Toxic Soup’


Tony Macaluso, Staff Writer

“The pandemic and social media can be a toxic soup when the two combine,” 56-year-old Brookdale Engineering and Technology Professor Mike Qaissaunee told a group assembled to hear his Civility Week presentation “The Internet Was Not Designed for Security and Privacy” on Oct. 19.

In polls, internet users have reported they believe civility online has declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data showed that most of the risks associated with the internet burden women, while the perpetrators are more frequently men.

Qaissaunee discussed how the internet has changed from an environment where people remain anonymous to one where individuals cultivate a persona different from who they are in real life. A persona involves a person doing and saying things online that they would not in person.

As this was happening as the pandemic hit and more daily life functions were moved to the internet, it has resulted in more people feeling unsafe online, Qaissaunee said.

“I was particularly intrigued about this presentation because it was so tied to what is occupied most of our space and our lives for two to three years, particularly technology and social media,” said 47-year-old Jake Farbman from Elmer, an administrator working in the President’s Office. “So, I wanted to come to get a little history about where all this came from, and what I can do, and we can do to just be better when using this technology.”

Qaissaunee told his audience that people felt their sense of community decreased during the pandemic as did individuals’ willingness to lend support to one another. And internet users said they were using the internet less often than before to connect with family and friends.

Additionally, the data shows these downward trends affect Generation and millennials more than other generations, Qaissaunee said. In fact, incivility is becoming the “new normal” for Generation Z and millennials, he said.

Qaissaunee said individuals can improve online civility by educating themselves and working together to make the digital world a safer place. Additionally, social media companies should more closely moderate harmful online speech and individuals should refrain from posting anonymously.