I encourage everyone to read this thoughtful post by Janet, and contribute your thoughts.
Often, questions about online civility are dismissed with the comment “get a thicker skin” – as if it simply doesn’t matter whether people address each other with respect online. I think it does matter. In the offline world, the “us/them” mentality fosters prejudice and misunderstanding – just turn on FoxNews. If that mentality also dominates the online world, turning it into a bunch of bickering echo chambers, we lose one of our best opportunities for constructive dialogue with people of other experiences and backgrounds.
A recent Pew study shows that bloggers are more likely than non-bloggers to have friends and discussion partners of different ethnic backgrounds (which just goes to show how awesome bloggers are). I’d like to think that’s true for age, nationality, socioeconomic background, academic discipline and politics as well. Let’s keep the channels of communication open, and kick the “us/them” attitude to the curb.