Social Media as a Potential Tool in Conflict Resolution: A Facebook Perspective
Humans are social animals, and will usually dwell together in communities, based on their beliefs, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions which may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.
In sociology the word community is often used to refer to a group that is organized around common values and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household. The word can also refer to the national community or global community. Since the advent of the Internet, however, the concept of community no longer has geographical limitations, as people can now virtually gather in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location
In other words, community indicates a group of people with a common identity other than location. Members often interact regularly. This is the case in a virtual community. A virtual community is a group of people primarily communicating or interacting with each other by means of information technologies, typically over the Internet, rather than in person. These may be either communities of interest, practice or communion. It usually involves users signing up to become members of a community page/network on the internet. Some examples include the following:
A business community is often an administrative community with possibilities to add CV's and other business-related information.
An interest community is a based on specialized areas such as art, golf or bird watching.
A general community is wider in its range - opening for its users to create areas, pages and groups.
Where community exists, it is desirable for freedom, trust and security to exist as well. The result is that the community then takes on a life of its own, as people become free enough to share and secure enough to get along. The sense of connectedness and formation of social networks comprise what has become known as social capital.
1.3 Social Capital
Social capital is defined by Robert D. Putnam (2000) as "the collective value of all social networks (who people know) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other (norms of reciprocity)." Social capital in action can be seen in all sorts of groups, including neighbours keeping an eye on each others' homes.
Social Capital Theory gained importance through the integration of classical sociological theory with the description of an intangible form of capital. In this way the classical definition of capital has been overcome allowing researchers to tackle issues in a new manner (Ferragina, 2010). See Table 1.
The Classical Theory
The Neo-Capital Theories
Lin, Burt, Marsden, Flap, Coleman
Bourdieu, Coleman, Putnam
Social relations: Exploitation by the capitalists (bourgeoisie) of the proletariat.
Accumulation of surplus value by labourer
Reproduction of dominant symbols and meanings (values)
Access to and use of resources embedded in social networks
Solidarity and reproduction of group
A. Part of surplus value between the use value (in consumption market) and the exchange value (in production labour market) of the commodity.
B. Investment in the production and circulation of commodities.
Investment in technical skills and knowledge
Internalization or misrecognition of dominant values
Investment in social networks
Investment in mutual recognition and acknowledgment
Level of Analysis
Individual / class
Table 1. Theories of Capital
Through the social capital concept researchers have tried to propose a synthesis between the value contained in the communitarian approaches and individualism professed by the 'rational choice theory.' Social capital can only be generated collectively thanks to the presence of communities and social networks, but individuals and groups can use it at the same time. (Ferragina, 2010).
1.4 Social capital and Social Networking Sites
Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogues. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (2010) define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content." Social media can take many different forms, including internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, microblogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, video, rating and social bookmarking. According to Kaplan and Haenlein there are six different types of social media namely: Collaborative projects, blogs and microblogs, content communities, social networking sites, virtual game worlds, and virtual communities. The rapid growth of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace suggests that individuals are creating a virtual-network consisting of both bonding and bridging social capital. Unlike face-to-face interaction, people can instantly connect with others in a targeted fashion by placing specific parameters with internet use. This means that individuals can selectively connect with others based on ascertained interests, and backgrounds. Facebook is currently the most popular social networking site and touts many advantages to its users including serving as a "social lubricant" for individuals who otherwise have difficulties forming and maintaining both strong and weak ties with others. However, the consensus of research shows that the more people spend online the more in-person contact they have, thus positively enhancing social capital.
1.5 Facebook and Social Networking Sites
Facebook is an online social networking website that lets users interact with each other by sharing information about themselves via personal profiles. Users share their information by "friending" others and allowing them access to their profile. As of October 2010, Facebook is currently considered the largest online social network with over 500 million active users, surpassing other online social networks such as MySpace, Friendster, and Bebo. Originally created by several Harvard students in February 2004, Facebook was modeled after paper pages that Harvard circulated profiling staff, faculty, and students. Facebook originally began as a service only offered to universities, but continually expanded its availability until Facebook allowed global registration in September 2006. Since then, Facebook has grown rapidly, becoming especially popular among younger generations and college students.
Although the premise of Facebook rests with sharing information via an online profile that contains basic information about the user, there have been important additions to the site that have fundamentally changed how users interact with others on Facebook. Facebook introduced the "groups" application in September 2004 as one of its basic features. Groups allows users to share common interests with each other by providing a common space where users can meet others interested in a specific topic, disseminate information about that topic, and have public discussions relevant to that topic. The group application was one of the earliest and still remains one of the most pivotal features contributing to the interactive nature of Facebook. Facebook has also made the wall (where users can post messages on other people's profiles), notes (where users can share their views with blog-like posts), share (where users can post links to external websites on their profile), and fan pages (where users can show support for a public figure), features enabling users to continually interact with each other. Facebook can be described as a fully established global human community located in the virtual world of the internet.
No matter the location, one of the characteristics of every human community is that sometimes tensions may arise when there are disagreements among members. These tensions could sometimes escalate into conflicts.
Conflict is defined by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as "a serious disagreement or argument; a prolonged armed struggle; and incompatibility between opinions, principles, etc." Conflict therefore permeates every nook and cranny of human lives. We experience controversy with our loved ones, friends, relatives, and co-workers. We see conflict in movies, television, and theatre. We read about conflict in books, newspapers, and magazines and on the Internet. We are beset by wars that we do or do not want. In government, industry, and politics, we see a mix of cooperation, honesty, trust, and reciprocity, as well as arrogance, corruption, greed, and retaliation. In short, we live in a world were conflict exists all the time. Nevertheless, there is always that inherent desire in every human for peace and agreement. Consequently, as much as conflict may seem to permeate the very existence of human life, several methods have been adopted over time to resolve these conflicts as and when they occur.
1.7 Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is a range of methods of eliminating sources of conflict. The term "conflict resolution" is sometimes used interchangeably with the term dispute resolution. Processes of conflict resolution generally include negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy. Conflict resolution can sometimes be highly sensitive to culture. For instance, in Western cultural contexts, such as Canada and the United States, successful conflict resolution usually involves fostering communication among disputants, problem solving, and drafting agreements that meet their underlying needs. In these situations, conflict resolvers often talk about finding the win-win solution, or mutually satisfying scenario, for everyone involved (Fisher and Ury, 1981).
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