Conflicts arise in many different ways but when more extreme emotions are involved, it can make for the perfect storm. Our personal values are often deeply rooted in emotions and constitute the window through which we experience conflict. Significant differences in values and emotions can trigger the initial conflict and exacerbate it. Researchers recently did a comparative case study of the consequences of framing of conflicts on social media.
In the Netherlands, the Farmer’s Movement on social media is heavily polarized. Animal rights advocates are against animal farming while farmers are dependent on the industry for their livelihood. The moral value at the center of this debate is animal welfare. Each side has a different policy response to the issue while both parties claim to know what is best for animal welfare. This creates a binary frame of an in-group/out-group dynamic that uses labeling and blaming to characterize the out-group. This triggered a contest of credibility (who cares most for animals) in which the two groups use the same issue and identity frames to directly oppose each other.
Animal rights advocates assumed farmers were interested in economic outcomes and lacked emotional connection to animals, causing them to ignore animal welfare. Farmers assumed that animal rights activists’ were too emotional and did not understand the facts about animal welfare. These assumptions were perpetuated by the fact that these groups only interacted on the internet. This served to escalate the conflict from one over issues to one over identities.
The leveraging of emotion reinforced escalation in two ways. First, it reinforced a vicious cycle over credibility: While emotions were implicitly used to frame the ingroup as caring and trustworthy, they were explicitly used to frame the other party as deceptive and irrational. Second, disputants used collective emotions as a response to the other group’s offensive actions (blaming) and as a justification of their own collective actions.
Social media encourages the simplification of opposing views and introduces a distance between disputants that might otherwise be reconciled. This study found that each group used frames to weaponize assumptions about the other without seeking a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of that group. It is all too easy to make assertions about the other side when interactions only occur on the internet. It therefore becomes crucial for conflict resolution practitioners to find a better balance of virtual and physical interactions between such groups in conflict.
Stevens, T.M., Aarts, N. and Dewulf, A. (2020). Using Emotions to Frame Issues and Identities in Conflict: Farmer Movements on Social Media. Negotiation Conflict Management Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/ncmr.12177