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

Gini Nelson, J.D., M.A., (  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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I’m interested in the role hosting websites play in resolving disputes resulting from online business transactions. An issue that comes to mind is not so much the trustworthiness of the other party’s behavior, but with the ability of any built-in accountability mechanisms for the website that is connecting the two parties that are doing business. Sites can be little more than an online bulletin board (a la craigslist), or it can have some kind of built-in accountability mechanisms (eBay, etc. ).  

I wonder if it is possible, or even wise, for these mechanisms to achieve equivalent conditions of more traditional offline dealings?  I ask because it seems like the fact that there are less accountability mechanisms might be the reason some people choose to do business online in the first place. Having less accountability could allow some streamlining or expediency benefits that some people view as an acceptable trade-off for the potential mistrust problems.  Contrary to what might normally seem advantageous, I think implementing more accountability measures for online dealings might actually decrease some people’s willingness to deal online, or at least push them towards sites with lower accountability. If people cared enough to jump through the extra hoops, they would already be doing that and requiring anyone they dealt with to do the same.


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