HCLDR + Civility

Blog post by Colin Hung

August 2018 marked the 6th anniversary of HCLDR.

When we started, I never thought it would become the community it is today. I thought HCLDR would be a bunch of friends who would get together for a couple of years to talk about healthcare and after that it would peter out. I’ve never been happier to be wrong. After six years we are still going strong.

Over the years, the community has morphed and changed. The tone and topics we cover on HCLDR have gotten broader and more in-depth. Many of the original participants have dropped out completely or only drop in from time to time. Even the moderators of the chats have changed a few times. It has been an amazing ride.

Since 2012, we have certainly had issues with strong opinions, off-color comments, questionable language, trolls and spammers. Some people have told me, it is an unfortunate mark of success. I wish it weren’t so. Through it all we have strived to maintain respect and civility. In fact that’s one of the founding principles of HCLDR – I wanted to create a space where people could come together to discuss healthcare topics rationally, in a professional manner.

I learn best through discussion. HCLDR has become one of the best places to learn about healthcare. The conversations we have are deep and the discussions are full of different points of view. I love that we have different perspectives – how else can we fully explore a topic? Sometimes, however, those differences of opinion can lead to heated exchanges.

Last week there was an exchange between one individual and several members of the HCLDR community (you can look it up if you would like the details, I prefer not to lavish more attention on the offending tweets). It happened during our Tuesday night chat but it started in the days before. In the end, this particular individual called several people names, used vulgar language and was mean-spirited. There was shock, anger, hurt feelings, and disappointment. Those that saw the exchange were quick to offer support for the people that were on the receiving end of the tirade.

I can say that had I been on the receiving end of those types of tweets, I would have stepped away from the keyboard and seen red.  No one should be made to feel inferior or be called vulgar names. There is simply no excuse for it in my book. You can be angry and convey it without resorting to swearing AT someone or belittling them.

Mark Oppenheimer, wrote a very personal article in The New Republic about his experience being on the receiving end of criticism and hatred on social media because of a “short, stupid piece” that he wrote about the Harvey Weinstein situation. I would strongly encourage you to read Oppenheimer’s fascinating story. Here are two excerpts I found especially relevant (please excuse the vulgar language in the second excerpt):

I was reminded that the worlds of social media and real life are not the same, and that they converge less than we might think. My neighbors had no idea what was happening to me. Online, my social-media universe was filled with journalists and Jewish communal professionals, rabbis and professors and nonprofit workers, all of whom knew that a Tablet writer had said something offensive about the Harvey Weinstein case—but outside my front door, I encountered people who didn’t inhabit my social-media universe.

In person, telling someone “go fuck yourself” is not something adults typically do. It’s not that an adult would never say such a thing, but if you did, you’d probably instantly feel that it had not been one of your better days. You’d have a sense, the moment that the words left your mouth, that you were not your best self. You would be horrified if your children had caught you in the act. What’s more, if you talked that way, you’d better be prepared to take one on the jaw. Our usual rule, when dealing with strangers, casual acquaintances, professional colleagues, and other people whose respect for us is contingent and can be withdrawn is to be extra nice. Most of us spend our days ruled by etiquette: doors are held, we say “please” and “thank you,” we bend to pick up things that others have dropped. The least friendly among us may skip these niceties, keep their heads bowed as they plow past those around them, but at worst they are promulgating a live-and-let-live indifference. (Except when cars are involved, of course. Road rage is the closest we come in the real world to behaving as we do online.) We hold ourselves to high standards. On the internet, those norms are overturned.

The exchange within the HCLDR community also spurred a lot of conversation via DM and publicly about cyberbullying, feeling belittled, differences of opinion and the general lack of civility on social media. Many people came forward with stories of how they had been through similar situations and were made to feel this way online.

The most interesting discussion was around what to do about it. Everything from reporting the tweets, to muting the individual, to asking them to leave the HCLDR community were brought forward. All are viable courses of action and depending on your mindset, each could be the “right answer”.

In reality, there is no right answer for EVERYONE. There is only the right answer for each of us as individuals. That is the beauty and the curse of open social media platforms like Twitter. No one person can control what happens on Twitter. I can’t stop someone from saying that they think Spiderman is the weakest superhero in the universe (he isn’t!), but I can mute or block that person if I don’t want to see their comments anymore. If I feel I was attacked then I can report those tweets through Twitter’s reporting mechanism. But in the end, it is up to me to do something about it.

Ong Siow Hen said it best in an essay for The Straits Times:

While leaving problems to be fixed by “those in charge” conforms to our experience as citizens of a well-managed state and products of protective families, in the autonomy of social media, all netizens are “those in charge”. Today’s netizens are the beneficiaries of all the advantages of social media. As heirs to the social media estate, they have a natural imperative to cultivate and nurture it.

As I was thinking through my own emotions and thinking about how I was going to act, something struck me. For 6 years HCLDR has operated without any formal declaration of what acceptable behavior is on our weekly twitterchat. I think it’s time we fix that.

Companies and formal associations all have codes of conduct that employees/members must adhere to – or risk facing consequences (fines, loss of employment, banishment from the club). Unfortunately on Twitter, there are not many effective consequences that can be invoked and community leaders have zero authority to implement any form of enforceable rules. Twitter is truly the Wild West in this sense.

I believe, however, that there is one thing that can be done – a pledge of civility with each other. One of the founding tenants of HCLDR is civil discourse: an engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. HCLDR was never meant to be an echo chamber, dissenting views and perspectives are welcome. We encourage people to bring their viewpoints forward and to offer whatever evidence/justification they have for it – as long as it is done with respect. What does that mean exactly? It means being open to listening to an opposing viewpoint and not attacking the individual putting it forward. It means recognizing that the depth of passion you have for your own standpoint is how the other person feels about theirs. This mutual respect and willingness to be open to other viewpoints is the cornerstone of civil discourse and thus of HCLDR.

My idea is to draft an HCLDR Pledge of Civility and publish it on our website. Members of the community can voluntarily agree to it and those that email or DM me will be listed as someone who is publicly stating they intend to live up to the principles the Pledge outlines. Taking the pledge is not a requirement of participation in HCLDR. It is completely, 100% voluntary and no one will be shunned because they didn’t take the pledge (that should be clause #1).

This Pledge of Civility is a variant of the idea put forward by Revive Civility, a program run by the National Institute for Civil Discourse, ahead of the 2016 election. They created a Pledge that people could use as a template for civil discourse in their communities.

Join me on Tuesday September 4th at 8:30pm (for your local time click here) when we will discuss cyberbullying, negative social media and crowdsource ideas for the new HCLDR Pledge.

  • T1 How has cyberbullying/negative social media impacted you or someone you know?
  • T2 What advice can you share on how you have dealt with negative comments, trolls, abusive behavior on social media?
  • T3 For our Pledge of Civility, what suggestions do you have for behaviors that SHOULD NOT be exhibited (ie: name calling)?
  • T4 For our Pledge of Civility, what suggestions do you have for behaviors that SHOULD BE exhibited in the HCLDR community? (ie: check facts whenever possible)


Hen, Ong Siow. “Social media: Mini-movements to encourage civil discourse wanted”, The Straits Times, 31 January 2018, https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/social-media-mini-movements-to-encourage-civil-discourse-wanted, accessed 3 September 2018.

“Fostering Civility on Social Media”, National Institute for Civil Discourse, http://www.revivecivility.org/sites/default/files/documents/Social%20Media%20Tips_0.pdf, accessed 3 September 2018.

“Setting the Table for Civility”, National Institute for Civil Discourse, https://www.revivecivility.org/setting-table-civility, accessed 3 September 2018.

Oppenheimer, Mark. “The Death of Civility in the Digital Age”, The New Republic, 6 March 2018, https://newrepublic.com/article/147276/death-civility-digital-age, accessed 3 September 2018.

Gordon, Sherri. “11 Ways to Deal With a Workplace Cyberbully”, VeryWillMind, 9 March 2018, https://www.verywellmind.com/ways-to-deal-with-workplace-cyberbully-460547, accessed 3 September 2018.

“How to Deal with Bullying when Authority Figures are Unsupportive”, WikiHow, https://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Bullying-when-Authority-Figures-Are-Unsupportive, accessed 3 September 2018.

Shearman, Sara. “Cyberbullying in the workplace: I became paranoid”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/mar/30/cyberbullying-in-the-workplace-i-became-paranoid, accessed 3 September 2018.

Gannett, Andrea Kay. “At Work: Cyberbullies graduate to workplace”, USA Today, 8 June 2013, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/kay/2013/06/08/at-work-office-cyberbullies/2398671/, accessed 3 September 2018.

Schulten, Katherine. “Talking Across Divides: 10 Ways to Encourage Civil Classroom Conversation On Difficult Issues”, The New York Times, 29 September 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/28/learning/lesson-plans/talking-across-divides-10-ways-to-encourage-civil-classroom-conversation-on-difficult-issues.html, accessed 3 September 2018.

“How To Deal With Different Opinions”, Hofstra Center for Civic Engagement, 24 February 2017, https://hofstracenterforcivicengagement.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/how-to-deal-with-different-opinions/, accessed 3 September 2018.

Miller, Claire Cain. “How Social Media Silences Debate”, The New York Times, 26 August 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/upshot/how-social-media-silences-debate.html, accessed 3 September 2018.

Robledo, S Jhoanna. “Navigating conflicts on social media”, American Psychological Association. 2016. http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2015/09/social-media.aspx, accessed 3 September 2018.

Hughes, Emily. “Dealing with Conflict on Social Media”, Penguin Random House, November 2017, http://authornews.penguinrandomhouse.com/dealing-with-conflict-on-social-media/, accessed 3 September 2018.

D’Costa, Krystal. “A Nation Divided by Social Media”, Scientific American, 31 January 2017, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/a-nation-divided-by-social-media/, accessed 3 September 2018.

Daskal, Lolly. “7 Simple Ways to Deal With a Disagreement Effectively”, Inc, 6 May 2016, https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/7-simple-ways-to-deal-with-a-disagreement-effectively.html, accessed 3 September 2018.

Vale, Andy. “12 Essential Tips for Conducting Incredible Twitter Chats That Everyone Wants To Be At”, Audiense Blog, 7 January 2015, https://resources.audiense.com/blog/12-essential-tips-for-hosting-incredible-twitter-chats-that-everyone-wants-to-be-at, accessed 3 September 2018.

“Speak Up for Civility”, Teaching Tolerance, 1 September 2016, https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/speak-up-for-civility, accessed 3 September 2018.

Twitter Hateful Conduct Policy https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/hateful-conduct-policy, accessed 3 September 2018.

Image Credit

Shutterstock licensed image.


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