If Americans choose, as they should, to engage each other in more civil and less angry and emotional ways, there will be two huge benefits to our efforts to stymie propaganda. First, we create a much less target-rich environment. If a politician, news anchor, or anyone with a decent follower count calls an opponent a “lying dog,” for example, within minutes meme magic can plaster that opponent’s face on the image of a dog and send it far and wide to the jocular amusement or horrified anger of millions of Americans.
If, on the other hand, the person criticizes his opponent by saying, “While my friend with whom I disagree is well intentioned, here is what they are getting wrong,” well, that would make a pretty terrible meme. It’s important to consider that, every time we “trigger the libs” or “own the conservatives,” we are creating opportunities for those seeking to harm our society.
A second way that greater civility in our discourse can help protect us from propaganda is by making it easier for us to spot. If we are name-calling at and dehumanizing those with whom we disagree, foreign actors simply blend into the background of incivility. If, on the other hand, more or most of our discourse is polite and respectful, these foreign efforts will stand out more starkly.