For at least the past year and a half, I’ve been thinking hard about the relationship between political incivility and digital communication networks. (That’s partly what led me into the collaborative journal special issue on trolling). It’s hard to wade into this area without taking one of a few fairly predictable normative positions – where, as Susan Herbst points out, “things are worse” or “they have ever been thus and stop whining” are no less common for being practically unverifiable.
Ungrounded reflection tends to lead most quickly in these normative directions. I knew I had to talk to people, and what’s more I wanted to. At first I was drawn to celebrity – Press Gallery journalists and federal politicians. But then I worked out that people in those positions are actually partly sheltered from the most dramatic effects of the changes that have occurred in political communication concurrently with the mass uptake of Internet technologies and, more recently, social media.