Supporting Conflict Resolution Skills in Social Media and Online Forums

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Leah Wing
Tom Murray

Social media and the Internet are transforming society, providing new benefits but also new hazards. Some have suggested that online communication and collaboration may lead to decreased civility, mutual understanding, and communicative clarity, as compared with face-to-face methods. Such negative trends can occur, but are they inevitable? We have been investigating whether online communication tools can actually support more skillful communication and deeper mutual understanding, especially in situations involving conflict, controversial topics, or differences in goals and perspectives.

What if online interactions could be designed to support more empathy, self-reflection, perspective taking, civility, and curiosity? Our preliminary research on new tools which support these abilities have found that they do foster better communication and conflict resolution skills in people engaged in online interactions. In this discussion we will explore these issues, giving some examples, and speak about tools for supporting positive conflict resolution skill use for social media and online communication.

Leah Wing serves on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst where her research and teaching apply critical theory to ODR, mediation, and reconciliation in colonized and postcolonial societies. She has been a mediator and trainer for educational institutions, government agencies, and non-profits since 1985, serving on the Board of Directors of the Association of Conflict Resolution from 2002-6, and as a member of the editorial board of Conflict Resolution Quarterly since 2002 and of the brand new International Journal of Online Dispute Resolution. She is the founding director of the Social Justice Mediation Institute. Leah co-director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, heads it's Art of Conflict Transformation program.

Leah’s publications concentrate on the critical examination of conflict transformation theory and practices in both the online and offline worlds and her most recent publications include “Online Dispute Resolution and the Development of Theory” co-authored with Dan Rainey in M. Waahab, E. Katsh, and D. Rainey (eds.). Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice. Hague: Eleven International Publishing, (2012).

Tom Murray is a Senior Research Fellow at UMass with degrees in Computer Science, Educational Technology, and Physics. He has been PI for several federally funded research grants. He has an interdisciplinary orientation and has published in the areas of deliberative dialogue, cognitive tools, inquiry learning environments, adaptive hypermedia, online collaboration, ethics education, applied philosophy, and knowledge engineering over 25 years. His research and teaching work have primarily been at UMass-Amherst and Hampshire College. He is on the editorial review boards of two international journals, the International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, and at Integral Review as an Associate Editor.

Online Dispute Resolution Resources:

National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution

Online Respect Pledge


Social Deliberative Skills

National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation


Deliberative Democracy Consortium

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