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Coming Together in the Age of Division – Future of American Participatory Democracy

Washington DC- October 2, 2019:  The Washington DC based Association of Americans for Civic Responsibility (AACR) in association with The George Mason University Department of Communication Insight Committee held its Bi-annual Roundtable on “Coming together in the Age of Division - Social Media, Civic Engagement and the Future of American Participatory Democracy” at George Mason University’s Fairfax campus on October 2, 2019. AACR had similar conferences at Las Vegas, Nevada; Syracuse University (Washington DC Campus); Overland Park, Kansas, and Kellogg School of Management, Chicago.        

The conference was attended by academia, journalists from news organizations, community leaders and graduate students. This year’s panelists were an outstanding group of thought leaders who triggered a very active intellectual conversation and deliberation. The graduate students from George Mason university will be compiling a Whitepaper on this symposium and make it available as a resource for researchers, legislative groups and communities. This event was organized by Chad Tragakis, Chairman of Mason Communication Insight Committee and Joseph Melookaran, National Program Chair for AACR. 

Chad Tragakis kicked off the event that was well attended. The first session covered “Advocacy, Activism and Opinion: The many forms and varying influences of online civic engagement”.  The panelists examined the emergence of divisive social media in America and gave a contextual analysis of the arguments that portray this as a cause or if they are the effect of political and socio-cultural conflict in the U.S. David Miller, a faculty of GMU moderated the session and the panelists were Eric Shiraev, Mason Schar School of Policy and Government & Co-founder of the Research Lab for Character Assassination and Reputation Politics (CARP), Sergei Samoilenko, Mason Communication Department Faculty & CARP Co-founder and Matthew Felling, Strategic Communications Director, Office of U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME)

The second session was moderated by Lindsay Burr, CEO of Yarbrough Group and dealt with the topic of “Social Networking Sites and Political Activity: Platforms for progress or havens for hate. The panelists presented their life experiences and current events to point to the gravity of the current problem of hatred and vilification as well as misinformation.  The panelists were Asra Nomani, Journalist, author and former Georgetown University Professor, Solon Simmons, Mason Associate Professor, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and Joel Harding, a commentator and consultant on Information Operations and Cyber Warfare.  The discussion ensued were very lively and was focused on whether the society can maintain civility and polity and leave it for being a self-correcting one or do governments, through legislative means, need to establish rules, limits and regulations and move to establish consequences for abuse of the freedom and ensuring transparency. The deliberations considered limits on First Amendment that is being misused by some bad actors. Also, the need to reform Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act of 1996. The current rules impede transparency and honesty and allows the bad actors to hide behind the organizations/groups who need not disclose their identity. Also, not having consequences for causing damages encourages them to continue their attacks and misinformation campaign with no civility of social considerations.  

The third session was moderated by Dr. Michael Schneider, former director of Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. The presenters were Jordan Allott, Documentary Filmmaker and Director, Steven Springer, Editor, News Standards & Best Practices, Voice of America. The Presentation were focused on the limits of online political speech and virtual civics and if it can be regulated, should it be, and if so… how. The panelists expressed their ideas and thoughts in the context of intellectual discussion that are taking place along with the regulatory moves by global governments.  The participants and panelists had a very productive deliberation on the limits and regulations and best practices to guide users of social media. Who sets the rules for conflict and competition in the cyber realm?

Dr. Joy Cherian advocated the need for having more forums and framework to exchange experiences to advance the need for civility and decorum in the social media space that will foster bringing people together maintaining restraint and decency in communication.  Dr. Cherian thanked all the speakers for an excellent discourse and deliberation during the event. 

AACR conducts civic responsibility roundtable every two years. You can see more information about the organization by visiting their website at www.aacri.org. If you need additional information about the organization or want to host a conference on any relevant topic please contact Joseph Melookaran at 913 706 0759, National Program Chair for AACR. AACR was founded by Dr. Joy Cherian, former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during President Regan, Bush Sr. and Early years of Clinton. The primary objective of AACR is to create a forum for exchange and education about the civic responsibility activities of all entities. 

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