Social media has become a platform for people to share ideas and learn more about one another. But it’s also become a battleground, of sorts—a place where people can hide behind words and say things they wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face. A recent study done by Wired Magazine and Disqus looked at the number of toxic posts in each state. In Missouri, the study found that 7.3 percent of posts over a 16-month period, included hostile content.
When President Donald Trump came to town, hateful comments between those who support Trump and those who don’t were flying.
But there were people whose comments sought to calm the situation.
One of those was Mikayla Pilant, a 22-year-old freelance artist from Branson and mom of a two-year-old boy.
Even though she didn’t vote for Trump (she cast a ballot for the libertarian candidate), she urged people to “listen to what he has to say.” According to Pilant’s social media post, “compromise can be reached if the discussion is opened.”
Civility is important to Pilant, and she said, it should be the biggest part of any discussion.
"I think that if people would remove their feelings from these subjects and just, you know, talk about facts instead of, 'oh, I feel this way, oh, this goes against this, this goes against this,' and just what is best for America as a nation, you know, put aside the petty arguments, the name calling and just be adults," she said.
Unfortunately, according to Pilant, that’s not something that seems to be happening.
"Just from what I've seen even just from whenever the president decided to visit, honestly it was a mess," she said. "Anytime I would look on, you know, any of the local news stations, any articles about it, it was nothing but name calling, you know, 'oh, well why are you protesting? Oh, we're going to protest you,' instead of people actually trying to talk things out. They just wanted to bully each other."
Pilant grew up in a conservative family and considers herself “the black sheep liberal child.” But she says she’s found that, as long as you can get people to remain calm during a discussion, it’s possible to talk about issues you don’t agree on.
"I have plenty of friends who are conservative, but we'll sit down and have discussions, and some of them will even, after a long discussion, admit, 'alright, you have a point.' I've even admitted on some things that they have a point," she said. "It's just that you have to have that maturity to open up the line, be willing to be open-minded, and that's not something that's really happening anymore."
At first glance, you might think Rob Fultz doesn’t care about civility. The 43-year-old wood shop worker who identifies as Republican came to Nichols Park in Springfield for an interview wearing a Confederate cap. But you would be wrong.
He’s frustrated by those he knows who no longer speak to people they used to friends with because of differing political beliefs.
"Just because of their different beliefs on that and everything," he said. "It's unreal."
In response to hateful comments on Facebook after Trump’s visit, Fultz wrote, “we may not agree with each other, but we’re all in this together.” While he believes the state of civility in our community isn’t “all that great,” he was happy to see how civil demonstrators were, for the most part, when President Trump came to Springfield.
Fultz explained the cap, saying he’s not ashamed of what he believes in. “I’m not racist in the least,” Fultz said. He’s received both dirty looks and compliments while wearing it and said he welcomes anyone’s questions. Fultz believes Confederate statues shouldn’t be taken down because he said that won’t erase history, but instead the country should take another approach.
"Why don't we just put plaques on them and actually state what they do and let people know, give them a little bit of knowledge about it instead of tearing them down and trying to forget about it," he said. "Because it's happened before. You forget about the past and it tends to repeat itself."
According to Fultz, civility means that you don’t necessarily have to get along or agree, but you need to realize everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.
"As soon as we learn to actually get over that part and get to see eye to eye with them and everything, it'd be a little easier I think," he said.
Joshua Boley got tired of the bickering back and forth about President Trump on Facebook and referenced a saying in the Marine Corps, in which he served for three years: "you don't have to respect the man but you will respect the rank." According to Boley in his post, “this is how I approached President Obama and how I wish people who disagree with President Trump would behave.”
The 40-year-old corporate photography assistant from Springfield identifies with the Constitution Party. He says, many of his friends don’t agree with his political ideals. But they can still sit down and discuss their beliefs and can see where the others are coming from, even though they still won’t agree.
"I may not see that that's the best course of action, but if I can try to articulate that, what I want is for America to be a better place, here's how I think we should get there, hopefully at the end of the day they want the same thing, but they're just trying to do it a different route," he said.
If people will actually sit down and listen to one another without getting into arguments and take the emotion out, he said, they can start to come to terms.
We need to take the time to understand why we have differing opinions, according to Boley, instead of trying to be right all the time.
"I think that's really the biggest deal is everybody wants to feel right, everybody wants to feel vindicated," he said. "Sometimes you're not going to be right and sometimes, you know, you're both right based on where you come to your conclusions. All of us have different life experiences that draw us to different places in our lives or different opinions or, you know, even religious convictions that are going to steer us. And I think if we realize that that other person that we're talking to is a human as well, I think that's going to make a difference."
He believes southwest Missouri is doing a better job of being civil than the nation as a whole. We tend to be more forgiving here, he said.
Ron Clark, a 48-year-old professor in Springfield, offered praise on social media for the way demonstrators on both sides handled President Trump’s visit. He wrote, “if we approach each other with love and respect, we'll cease to talk past each other and start to listen to one another. No argument is settled with hate.”
According to Clark, people stop listening when they yell at each other. Yet, he said, “highly intelligent, well meaning, rational people exist on both sides of any political disagreement.”
He believes the civility of discourse is better in Springfield than in most communities in which he’s lived, and when he does see a lack of civility in the Ozarks, it’s largely confined to social media.
He’s encouraged by the way the community responds to diversity of opinion without resorting to some of the extreme hostility and violence that’s happened in other communities. According to Clark, “I can’t think of a place I’d rather call home.”