Online Communications & Trust

Moderated by Jon Linden, John DeBruyn, and Gini Nelson

Despite widespread examples of disingenuous behavior by people on the Internet, there are certain forums that seem to be able to count on people being trustworthy.  One such forum which is utilized frequently and has the character of being mostly trustworthy is when the Internet is used to resolve disputes, i.e. ODR – Online Dispute Resolution.  One would ask the question, “Why should people act differently in this forum than they do in any other Internet based forum?”  The answer to that question is relatively simple.  When the internet is being used for ODR, the Internet is acting purely as a convenience to the parties involved.  ODR makes it possible for these people to create an environment which is flexible in many ways, particularly in the areas of Time  and Space/Distance.  In ODR, the internet is being used to facilitate the ability of two or more parties who are separated by one of both of Time (therefore, they are in a different Time Zone) and Space (therefore, they are significant distances away from each other.)  There is an ongoing dispute and all the parties to the dispute would like to resolve it in some manner.  Therefore, they are being given the option to utilize the Internet to resolve the dispute in a manner that will allow all parties to participate, but they can do so without leaving their home or office.  They are motivated to resolve the dispute because the parties have a vested interest in the resolution, or they need something that will be provided as a condition of the resolution.  Clearly then, the parties can be trusted in direct proportion to their need for there to be a resolution.  Assuming their need is high, even if it is just a matter of their Reputation, often this reason is a large enough reason for them to be trustworthy in keeping their agreement.

Moderator Bios:

 

Jon Linden is an independent Mediator and Facilitator.  He is also a Certified Paralegal.  Mr. Linden works as a contract Mediator for the NJ Superior Court System/Civil Division and has been working for the NJ Court System for 27 years.  In addition, Mr. Linden worked as a contract Mediator for the US EEOC for 10 years.  He has been an instructor for numerous Mediation classes, including his own, the US EEOC’s, and the NJ Court System for the County of Union, NJ.  Mr. Linden also was a Mediator for SquareTrade and worked to resolve purchase disputes which occurred on E-Bay.  Mr. Linden has written extensively on Mediation and many of his articles are posted on his website at www.mediate.com/proactive.

Gini Nelson, J.D., M.A., (http://gininelson.com)  has been practicing law for 30 years. Her practice includes mediation, including online mediation and consultation.  As an early adopter of social media tools, she started her first blog, Engaging Conflicts in 2006.  She has participated in several, earlier Cyberweeks.

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Jon and Gini, thanks for surfacing this important topic!  Trust is essential to effective dispute resolution, as well as a variety of other online and offline activities -- and it is woefully absent in many internet based interactions these days.  I'd even go so far as to say that the internet, and online media overall, is further eroding social trust in the US... and this is when social trust was at it's lowest ebb even before online media started taking over from offline media.

For me, the key issue is anonymity.  Because online posters are insulated from personal accountability for their actions, they will say and do horrible things that they'd never say or do in person... largely because they feel there's just no consequence for them to do so.  Now in ODR, as you note, the parties do have some relationship with each other, and a mutual interest in resolving the issue at hand.  That dynamic creates more of an incentive for them to follow through and to do the right thing.  But we need to have other elements in place to compliment our ODR schemes -- e.g. reputation systems, enforcement mechanisms, ways to catch bad actors/cheaters -- to truly have trust online.  We are not anonymous to the people we have disputes with, so we don't see the worst kinds of behaviors (think comments on youtube) in most ODR fora.

Trust is not something that happens spontaneously.  It takes work to foster it, and work to maintain it.  And once it's gone, it can be incredibly hard to get back.  As the saying goes, "Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel."

rah

Colin makes many good points here. Anonymity is an important concept but the same problems can happen when the online interaction leads one to treat the other party as something less than human. In a past Cyberweek learned how online communications are linked with the psychological concept of dehumanization. I am no expert but from what I recall people will treat others very badly when they do not view them as humans. This was the root of the issue in the prison guard experiments.

The same phenomenon can happen when people interact online. The party on the other side is something less than human because of the platform of the communication. Removing physical interaction that comes from real face to face meetings can cause the parties to see the other as an object and not a person.  The solution, I recall, was to put more "humanness" into the process. Bios, reputation, schmoozing (small talk), etc. were possible avenues. 

Sam, I used to be more optimistic about fostering connection between folks online with small talk, bios, pictures, etc. -- I remember when Facebook started hosting discussion fora on other websites, I thought that would really help to combat the incivility problem, because people would know that whatever they posted would connect back to their Facebook profile.  For a while I think I did see a slight increase in politeness in Facebook-hosted discussions on other sites, but then it slipped back into the same old sniping.  Now people post rude things on Facebook, even though that's not an anonymous forum.

I think people feel there's no consequence to rudeness online.  I do think there is a dehumanization element to it.  I've argued for a long time that we can humanize online communication, but I think that only works to a certain point.  Especially when interacting with people you've never met offline, or are unlikely to ever meet in person, there's very little social penalty to being more aggressive in your communications.  In the f2f world, there are social penalties to being rude.  Maybe instead of just thinking about ways to gently humanize online interactions we should think more broadly about how to penalize bad behavior.  On eBay's fora there were community rules -- and if you broke the rules, you got suspended... they could pull your ability to post there for a month, or several months, or for life.  Perhaps we need to think about sticks in addition to carrots if we're going to meaningfully change the incentives.

I also note that some popular sites are shutting down their comment sections in response to research findings:
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/why-were-shutting-our...

Maybe we'll see more of this in the future.

rah

Hi Colin:  You provided a good overview and summary of the elements that help a sense of trust to develop in the context of online dispute resolution and I venture what's up here which is online dialogue.  My experience with dialogue taking place here, at Cyberweek, and over the years since we did Cyberweek the first time around with Ethan Katsh back in 1998, is that civility has been maintained at a very high level amongst the participants in Cyberweek.  Obvious, perhaps, is that each one of us has a reputation to protect. What else is going on here that we can bring to build trust in the context of online dispute resolution? John

Post script: As a bonus to our readers let me point our readers to Colin's paper of seven years ago with Larry Friedberg on trust online:

http://acrepp.org/epp/ODR-and-Trust-Article_Breakout-1_Learning_fro...

Hi Colin, Sam and Jon Linden: Perhaps, besides reputations to protect, there is shared experience and shared goals. I believe that is part of what Jon and I have concluded after our shared experience in facilitating/moderating the focus group discussions that were conducted online following the 9/11 attack and the rebuilding/redevelopment of the World Trade Center and its environs. Are there differences between dispute resolution and problem solving dialogue with regard to trust? John

Hi all,

Great discussion! Just a few quick points that come to mind as I read your comments. One is Colin's important recent article about his findings on eBay that participation in ODR actually increases trust, making those users who went through ODR (whether they prevailed or not) more active on the site than those who did not experience ODR. That's really really interesting. Another important point is to remember the advantages that come with anonymity that is available online in terms of disputeing and surfacing problems. I refer you to Ethan and Leah's article that appeared some years ago in the University of Toledo Law Review where they analyze the importance (as well as problematic aspects) of the brainstorming software that allowed for anonymous input to be posted.

I agree with Colin, ODR and perhaps communication online more generally, need to be placed within a broader context that allows for trust to emerge (whether through authentication, accountability, insurance, etc).

Looking forward to hearing more,

Orna


We're about six minutes into Cyberweek, and look at where this discussion has reached already!

Hi everyone. I'd like to comment on Colin's note on anonymity, and how even when people's posts were connected to their visible Facebook profile, they reverted pretty quickly to incivility.  I've suggested before that communicating over the internet, people often act as if they were anonymous even if they really are not and know, perfectly well, that they are not anonymous. Colin's example illustrates that well! I've scene this in any number of discussion forums and online negotiations as well. Anybody else have any other examples of this? 

Noam

Colin Rule said:

Sam, I used to be more optimistic about fostering connection between folks online with small talk, bios, pictures, etc. -- I remember when Facebook started hosting discussion fora on other websites, I thought that would really help to combat the incivility problem, because people would know that whatever they posted would connect back to their Facebook profile.  For a while I think I did see a slight increase in politeness in Facebook-hosted discussions on other sites, but then it slipped back into the same old sniping.  Now people post rude things on Facebook, even though that's not an anonymous forum.

I think people feel there's no consequence to rudeness online.  I do think there is a dehumanization element to it.  I've argued for a long time that we can humanize online communication, but I think that only works to a certain point.  Especially when interacting with people you've never met offline, or are unlikely to ever meet in person, there's very little social penalty to being more aggressive in your communications.  In the f2f world, there are social penalties to being rude.  Maybe instead of just thinking about ways to gently humanize online interactions we should think more broadly about how to penalize bad behavior.  On eBay's fora there were community rules -- and if you broke the rules, you got suspended... they could pull your ability to post there for a month, or several months, or for life.  Perhaps we need to think about sticks in addition to carrots if we're going to meaningfully change the incentives.

I also note that some popular sites are shutting down their comment sections in response to research findings:
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/why-were-shutting-our...

Maybe we'll see more of this in the future.

rah



Noam Ebner said:


We're about six minutes into Cyberweek, and look at where this discussion has reached already!

Hi everyone. I'd like to comment on Colin's note on anonymity, and how even when people's posts were connected to their visible Facebook profile, they reverted pretty quickly to incivility.  I've suggested before that communicating over the internet, people often act as if they were anonymous even if they really are not and know, perfectly well, that they are not anonymous. Colin's example illustrates that well! I've scene this in any number of discussion forums and online negotiations as well. Anybody else have any other examples of this? 

Noam

Colin Rule said:

Sam, I used to be more optimistic about fostering connection between folks online with small talk, bios, pictures, etc. -- I remember when Facebook started hosting discussion fora on other websites, I thought that would really help to combat the incivility problem, because people would know that whatever they posted would connect back to their Facebook profile.  For a while I think I did see a slight increase in politeness in Facebook-hosted discussions on other sites, but then it slipped back into the same old sniping.  Now people post rude things on Facebook, even though that's not an anonymous forum.

I think people feel there's no consequence to rudeness online.  I do think there is a dehumanization element to it.  I've argued for a long time that we can humanize online communication, but I think that only works to a certain point.  Especially when interacting with people you've never met offline, or are unlikely to ever meet in person, there's very little social penalty to being more aggressive in your communications.  In the f2f world, there are social penalties to being rude.  Maybe instead of just thinking about ways to gently humanize online interactions we should think more broadly about how to penalize bad behavior.  On eBay's fora there were community rules -- and if you broke the rules, you got suspended... they could pull your ability to post there for a month, or several months, or for life.  Perhaps we need to think about sticks in addition to carrots if we're going to meaningfully change the incentives.

I also note that some popular sites are shutting down their comment sections in response to research findings:
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/why-were-shutting-our...

Maybe we'll see more of this in the future.

rah

Good Morning, Sorry I am a little late this morning, I was catching up on the dialogue. I have been trying to think about the concept of incivility in on line discussions and how it went when I was working with the people who were trying to comment on what they wanted in the rebuilt World Trade Center. I will admit outright, that some people were disruptive. In those cases where those people were disruptive it was occasionally necessary to eject them from the discussion. However, they were pretty few and far between, because the real objective was pretty close to people's hearts and they really felt that what they were doing would be reflected in what they communicated in those sessions. So they tried to act like proper human beings. My contention is very much that to the extent that what the participants want is being addressed in the ODR discussion allows them to act in a positive and appropriate manner.

Hi All

Good topic and very interesting insides from all of you. What I'd like to point out here is education or socialization. In my country, Senegal, our cutlure condemns rudeness to the elderly and foreigners. But now with the new generation of "urban-cultured" young people we are more and more witnessing face-to-face impoliteness during live tv or radio programs. Put this on the Internet, because of their social education background, some people do not hesitate to pour insanities on an online discusion regardless of the interest they have in the discussed subject. To me all is about how people are educated to treat their counterparts be it online or face-to-face discussions. What it is important then is how we look at the others and how we would like them to look at us and the stake we consider during online discussions.


Mamadou - what a good point! And, in the US, what does it say about our culture that we need to have a grassroots campaign, promoting people to not be incivil to each other, just for one day! http://ht.ly/qsZ5M


Mamadou Falilou Sarr said:

Hi All

Good topic and very interesting insides from all of you. What I'd like to point out here is education or socialization. In my country, Senegal, our cutlure condemns rudeness to the elderly and foreigners. But now with the new generation of "urban-cultured" young people we are more and more witnessing face-to-face impoliteness during live tv or radio programs. Put this on the Internet, because of their social education background, some people do not hesitate to pour insanities on an online discusion regardless of the interest they have in the discussed subject. To me all is about how people are educated to treat their counterparts be it online or face-to-face discussions. What it is important then is how we look at the others and how we would like them to look at us and the stake we consider during online discussions.

Hello Mamodou

Mamadou Falilou Sarr said:

Hi All

Good topic and very interesting insides from all of you. What I'd like to point out here is education or socialization. In my country, Senegal, our cutlure condemns rudeness to the elderly and foreigners. But now with the new generation of "urban-cultured" young people we are more and more witnessing face-to-face impoliteness during live tv or radio programs. Put this on the Internet, because of their social education background, some people do not hesitate to pour insanities on an online discusion regardless of the interest they have in the discussed subject. To me all is about how people are educated to treat their counterparts be it online or face-to-face discussions. What it is important then is how we look at the others and how we would like them to look at us and the stake we consider during online discussions.

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