Sorting Out Messes: Facts, Social Media, Dialogue

Earlier posts here at FranklinSolutions like, “Still Waters”and “The Power of Fair,” are relevant to how we approach private conflicts as well as tumult in the public square.

As for the public square, the noise there is deafening. If you watch broadcast TV, you may notice that some newscasters or commentators even speak in odd, staccato, urgent tones as though to whip us into a frenzy about almost everything. 

Enough, please! It is not helping.

Two points here are ones I did not make in the posts that I mentioned: (1) the important role of facts in dispute resolution and dialogue to reach resolution; and, (2) the role of social media in perpetuating turmoil and preventing dialogue (conversely, the potential role of social media in fostering communication and consensus, preventing turmoil.) Both are important subjects.

The recent (Winter 2018) issue of “Dispute Resolution,” (the magazine of the American Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section) focuses on the role that facts and finding facts might play in resolving or perpetuating dispute. How to “find” facts (reach consensus about what is a fact) is itself amenable to facilitation in some cases, and there is apparently a method for doing that. The ABA articles need to be read of themselves.

The same issue notes that the St. Moritz College of Law at Ohio State (see my earlier post about Nancy Rogers entitled, “The Longer, Broader View…”) sponsors a Divided Community Project. The DCP examines and experiments through pilot partnerships how communities can identify divisive issues and work to prevent their escalation before they harm the community and its members. The DCP is directed by Grande Lum who previously worked in the US Department of Justice to provide aid to communities experiencing turmoil in the wake of crises like mass shootings and other hate-fueled tragedies.

A report is about to be issued by the DCP which will discuss how social media can be used to reduce community tensions and to grow community dialogue and understanding. Use of social media is also relevant in the concern about agreeing about facts that are important to building a larger consensus. It may be productive to think about and promote positive uses of social media to counter some of the self-centeredness that can distort facts and destabilize groups.

Jeanne Franklin