Coming Together in the Age of Division

Social Media, Civic Engagement and the Future of American Participatory Democracy: Responsibility, Restraint, Restrictions?

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 9:00 AM
Merten Hall (formerly University Hall), 1201

A Symposium Sponsored by:

The Association of Americans for Civic Responsibility &

The George Mason University Department of Communication Insight Committee

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

9:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.




8:30 – 9:00 a.m. – Registration, Networking and Continental Breakfast


8:50 – 9:00 a.m. – Welcome, overview of purpose and format, introductions around the room

Chad Tragakis

Chair, Mason Communication Insight Committee and AACR Advisory Board Member


9:00 – 10:10 a.m. – Session 1: Advocacy, Activism and Opinion: The many forms and varying influences of online civic engagement

Session Framing Questions: What is the context for the emergence of divisive social media in America? Are they a cause or are they the effect of political and socio-cultural conflict in the U.S.?

Featured Panelists:

Matthew Felling, Strategic Communications Director, Office of U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME)

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

Session Moderator:

David Miller, Mason Communication Department Faculty


10:10 – 10:20 a.m. Coffee Break


10:20 – 11:30 a.m. – Session 2: Social Networking Sites and Political Activity: Platforms for progress or havens for hate?

Session Framing Questions: How serious is the current problem? Can our society and polity be self-correcting or do we need to establish rules, limits and regulations?


Featured Panelists:

Solon Simmons, Mason Associate Professor, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution

Michael Maibach, Director of The Center for The Electoral College

Joel Harding, Commentator and Consultant on Information Operations and Cyber Warfare


Session Moderator:

Lindsay Burr

CEO, The Yarbrough Group

11:30 a.m. – 11:40 – Coffee Break

11:40 a.m – 12:50 p.m. – Working Lunch and Moderated Discussion: The Limits of Online Political Speech and Virtual Civics: Can it be regulated, should it be, and if so… how?

Session Framing Questions: If limits or regulations are required, who shall enact them and how? How extensive or formal must they be? Who sets the rules for conflict and competition in the cyber realm?

Featured Panelists:

Jordan Allott, Documentary Filmmaker and Director 

Asra Nomani, Journalist, Author, former Georgetown University Professor

Steven Springer, Editor, News Standards & Best Practices, Voice of America

Session Moderator:

Michael Schneider, Former Director, Washington, DC Program, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University


12:50 – 1:30 p.m. – Toward consensus / Final thoughts from around the room


Chad Tragakis, Chair, George Mason University Insight Committee and AACR Advisory Board Member


A Session Closing Consideration from Vaclav Havel: “How are we to go about building such a state? What does such an ambition bind us to, or offer us, in practical terms? There is no simple set of instructions on how to proceed. A moral and intellectual state cannot be established through a constitution, or through law, or through directives, but only through complex, long-term, and never-ending work involving education and self-education. What is needed is lively and responsible consideration of every political step, ever decision; a constant stress on moral deliberation and moral judgement; continued self-examination and self-analysis; an endless rethinking of our priorities. It is not, in short, something we can simply declare or introduce. It is a way of going about things, and it demands the courage to breathe moral and spiritual motivation into everything, to seek the human dimension in all things. Science, technology, expertise, and so-called professionalism are not enough. Something more is necessary. For the sake of simplicity, it might be called spirit. Or feeling. Or conscience.” Excerpt from: Politics, Morality & Civility, 1991


1:30 p.m. – Adjourn

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