Shaping Policy Discourse In The Public Sphere: Evaluating Civil Speech In An Online Consultation

Anna Christine Hurrell
Communication and Culture, Ryerson University
July, 2004
 

Abstract

The ability of the Internet to function as a public sphere, where citizens can come to public agreement and make recommendations that affect government decisions, has recently come under question. The aggressive style of discourse so prevalent in online discussion has been cited as a significant barrier to the deliberative and open discussion necessary for an effective public sphere. This paper focuses on web-based discussion in an online policy consultation called the Canadian Foreign Policy Dialogue, and examines specific discourse features to evaluate whether the moderated online policy discussion was civil, and whether that civility promoted meaningful interaction among citizens, and between citizens and government. The study results revealed that citizen participants in the dialogue were successful at developing, maintaining, and enforcing norms of civil discourse, and that these norms helped to promote understanding, tolerance, and consensus-building. The study also cautions that civil dialogue alone cannot ensure effective communication between governments and citizens.
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