On the Line: Promoting Civility at the University of South Carolina and Beyond

Editor’s note: This article discusses the inspiration for and execution of the University of South Carolina’s Bateman Case Study team campaign. To learn more about the Bateman Case Study Competition, click here.

It began on a January morning in a fishbowl classroom. My classmates and I were sitting in silence feeling the mental and physical fatigue from the year 2020 and an overall lack of motivation about what we were doing. We started reminiscing on past-trends like ‘Ask.fm’ — a form of social media that encouraged questions to be submitted anonymously. We realized that we were all too familiar with incivility online, and it was at this moment that our casual conversation transformed into inspiration for our digital civility campaign “On the Line”. 

Our campaign “On the Line” emphasizes what is on the line (your relationships, career,  reputation etc.) when you are actively uncivil online. Our goals are to educate public relations professionals, college students and South Carolina residents of what digital civility is and the importance of holding ourselves and community accountable.

The concept of digital civility starts with understanding that we each have an individual responsibility to protect the freedoms that the Internet offers by recognizing not only how our own actions can affect others — but also how we can inspire, educate, support and empower the people we connect with online.

In the span of just one month, we executed our strategic plan targeting public relations professionals, students, Columbia residents and beyond. We presented our campaign, On the Line, at the University of South Carolina’s annual Student Leadership and Diversity Conference,  received support from the University President for campus-wide civility initiatives and partnered with UofSC’s First Year seminar to develop a civility module within a digital toolkit for first-year students. Finally, we received over 500+ signatures on our civility pledge and drafted an official proclamation with the Mayor of Columbia recognizing March 7, 2021 as “Social Media Day of Civility” in Columbia, S.C. The proclamation acknowledges the current state of civil discourse, outlines the importance of online civility and asks civilians to refrain from posting negative, demeaning, caustic, bullying or otherwise socially detrimental messaging.

I am proud of the work that our all-girl team of five has accomplished. Our hope for the campaign goes beyond the Bateman Competition. We want to see the plans we have put in place to continue to encourage conscious online behavior — respecting differences, pausing before replying and standing up for yourself and others.

Contessa Davis is a senior at the University of South Carolina studying public relations with a minor in leadership studies. Heavily involved on campus, her roles include: PRSSA Chapter president, Press Secretary to the Student Body Vice President and a University 101 Peer Leader. Upon graduating, her plans are to attend graduate school in Washington D.C. where she hopes to learn more about political management in hopes of one day becoming a political strategist.

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