Intergroup Conflict and Technological Mediums

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Abstract

Intergroup conflict analysis in political psychology has identified ways that groups form their perceptions towards the outgroup and different reconciliation methods have been suggested as a means for conflict resolution. This paper combines essential theories of communication and psychological theories to argue that the internet can be used as a tool for reconciling groups in the 21st century and years to come. It will first look at why the ‘medium’ through which intergroups interact is a crucial component with an analysis on the Rwandan Genocide and then it will demonstrate why the internet should be used as the medium for reconciliation processes to take place between groups in conflict or in the process of intensifying conflict. It will simultaneously identify the issues with traditional reconciliation process whilst establish how the internet over comes these issues. The possible negative implications and complications that will be faced by using the internet will be explored, however, it will be concluded that the internet has more potential, in comparison to previous reconciliation mediums, for positive progression as to how different groups interact with one another.

The Internet as A Progressive Reconciliatory Medium

“For the “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (Marshall McCLUHAN, 1964)

Internet mediated communication is the key to solving intergroup conflicts because traditional methods have become trivial. Internet mediated communication as a means for intergroup conflict reduction is a progressive tool for the following reasons; groups are exposed to a considerable amount of out-group information that will challenge negative views, the factor of anonymity enables groups to interact with one another and change their beliefs and finally, it eliminates the physical distance between groups; online you can reach different people no matter your location. By analyzing various case studies from 20th and 21st century intergroup conflicts and their use of different mediums, this essay will not only expand on the reasons why internet mediated communication is best, but will also identify the mediums used in 20th and 21st century intergroup conflicts and their purpose and the effectiveness of mediums used in 20th century, in comparison to 21st century mediums, as a means to reconcile groups. In this way, arguing that reconciliation processes are more likely to succeed in the 21st century because of the way intergroup interaction functions online.

In this essay the term ‘traditional reconciliation methods’ will refer to psychological conflict resolution methods that rely on face to face communication between groups as a means to change in group perception of the out group; such as the reconciliation methods used after the Rwandan Genocide.

Group Identity and Social Identify Theory (SIT)

by ‘intergroup’ and technological mediums. The term intergroup has basis on social identity theory; which is a theory that distinguishes the way humans interact with one another. Humans can form their own groups in accordance to “gender, religion and nationality” (Brewer chapter 11). Another definition for intergroup, as stated in Merriam-Webster dictionary is an “existing or occurring between two or more social groups”. In this way, when referring to intergroup conflict, this means one group fighting against another group. Furthermore, the term technological medium refers to different technologies, specifically radio, media, the internet; anything electronic that can be used as a means to pass a message or propaganda hence why they are technological mediums.

It is equally important to note that mediums can be used for both good and bad, which is something that is demonstrated in the paper, when talking about 21st century conflict initiation; the internet plays a crucial role in the way groups interact. Although there is space to do harm online, there is even more potential to do good and solve issues between groups on the internet because of the features available online, which did not exist in 20th century intergroup conflict; hence why reconciliation processes pre-digital age were limited and narrow.

What is a ‘medium’?

As stated earlier this paper will combine communication theories with political psychology in order to understand how modern intergroup conflicts can be resolved online. In communication theory, Marshall McLuhan puts emphasis on the medium that a message is sent through and concludes the medium can also be the message;

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves— result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (McLuhan 1956 pg. 1)

This is significant and relevant when understanding intergroup dynamics and reconciliation because the way through someone is address or spoken to, will give the message a different understanding and meaning. Furthermore, different mediums impact different sense experiences; using face to face mediated message, all senses are used whereas, when it comes to radio, only auditory senses are used, and different senses will be used when a digital medium is used. In this way, depending on the medium used between groups, their stereotypes can either be enforced or changed because of the sense experience provided through the medium and message.

Comparative analysis and identifying mediums and reconciliation methods in intergroup conflict

As stated earlier, the medium is significant in shaping the way society thinks, and in this case; how a group thinks about the other because the medium is a “result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology”(McLuhan, 1956, pp 1). In many intergroup conflicts (such as the Rwandan Genocide), there is use of different technological mediums and some of these mediums have helped incite violence between groups. In this section, the medium used to incite violence will be identified to demonstrate why speaking about the medium is relevant and then it will also identify the reconciliation processes that took place to resolve such conflict and through which medium it was done through.

The Rwandan Genocide was an intergroup conflict that occurred in the late 20th century after the death of Hutu president. This conflict was between the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s. The Tutsis were the minority group that was massacred by the Hutus for a span of 100 days in 1994; in which 800,000 Tutsis died. There were series of political movements that tainted the Tutsi image in the eyes of Hutus, especially considering that the president condoned this hate towards the Tutsi; which inevitably lead to the massacre of Tutsi minority in 1994 (Des Forges, 2007, pp 42). Despite both groups being ethnically similar, the Hutu lead government was able to spread a narrative that would upon the negative collective memory that Hutu’s had of the Tutsi’s by gaining control of the radio; Radio-Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM). The medium was used to incite violence, and this also demonstrates the importance of picking a specific medium (McLuhan). Considering that “a large number of Rwandans could not read or write”, picking radio as a medium was a vital tool for the Hutu community to spread their hate speech and propaganda that justified the killings of Tutsi, by claiming it as self-defense (Forges, 2007 pp,42). RTLM used various hate speech that further demonized the out group by underlining the “inherent differences between Hutu and Tutsi, the foreign origin of Tutsi” and not only blamed many socio-economic differences on Tutsi civilians but also reminded many of “the horrors of past Tutsi Rule” (Forges, 2007, pp45). It is clear that intergroup conflicts were encouraged through radio as many Hutu’s were dependent on “radio stations to incite and mobilize, then to give specific directions for carrying out the killings” (pp47). As explicitly demonstrated, the radio as a medium to incite violence was crucial in the Rwandan genocide because not many could read the newspaper; the radio was a medium that the Rwandan society understood and connected with. In this way, it is clear that the radio did more damage than good in resolving intergroup conflict.

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On the contrary, the reconciliation process that took place in Rwanda used the oral medium. The oral medium is the use of basic face to face communication; speech. At the surface, immediate level, it seemed to resolve all issues in regard to the intergroup conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu’s. This reconciliation method was somewhat unorthodox in comparison to different conflict resolution processes that were used in the 20th century. Both sides told their stories and although, it may seem that both sides were able to end the conflict. This form of reconciliation process, because of the medium used, caused a lot of PTSD in those who took part in this process. (Karen Brounéus). What this means is that in Rwanda, the victim and perpetrator had to face one another, and this need to be physically there, in front of someone who had hurt you in irreversible ways, solved the conflict but damaged many Rwandans psychologically in the long run (this will be explored later within the paper).

Intergroup exposure to challenging information

Groups in conflict can gain immediate access to information that challenges their view of their ‘enemy’. The internet is a very flexible platform that not only enables communication between in group and out group but also makes the groups accessible to different narratives. As stated earlier, people form and rely on their group identity because of their self-esteem; belonging to a group increases the persons sense of security and purpose (Tajfel__). This sense of security and boost in self esteem can also stem from interacting with the out group online and understanding the outgroups perspective. What is meant by immediate access to information is that online an individual is able to access a variety of websites and even games, that would put them in direct, or indirect, contact with those that they perceive to be the ‘enemy’. With this access, an individual from the outgroup and one from the ingroup will be able to see their mutual interests. If people rely on group identity to feel secure, the ease of finding mutual interests between one another online (especially those in conflict), would decrease the negative perception between these groups because their relationship online would be based on their “mutual interests…[which] is likely to enrich their individual identity significantly” instead of their negative group identity (Amichai-Hamburger, 2010, pp 183). Furthermore, the internet, especially social networking platforms, provide people with news articles, forums and even videos that promote different perspectives to a conflict or perception of a group of people. This is significant because it can lead to the breaking down of strong stereotypes towards the outgroup. This breaking down will not happen instantly, but it will weaken the need to cling to these stereotypes. The news and radio are outdated mediums and does not have the same reach, which is another key aspect that will be discussed later in the paper. An example of stereotypes being broken down are prevalent in the ‘Israel Loves Iran’ social media movement. This movement began online with the agenda of breaking the stereotype that Iranians had of Israelis. The message it promoted highlighted the similarities between the two groups and emphasized that Israeli citizens have compassion and love towards Iranians and that the conflict is between governments not citizens; the impact that this has, is that it creates a neutral platform for groups to not only find out their similarities but also catalyzes a cognitive process that will change the way groups understand one another.

Anonymity, Face to face and PTSD

The internet is the platform for reconciliation because of the factor of anonymity and non-physicality reduces intergroup stereotype because it makes individuals from either group feels secure. The environment that an individual experience online is less stressful than the physical, real life environment because there is the element of anonymity. When it comes to facing your attacker or someone you do not feel ‘secure’ being next too because of the negative narrative that has been fed by the in group, the ability to just create a fake username and avatar limits the need to reveal group characterization and thus further promotes communication between the out group and in group; without either sides knowing at first. Once an online relationship is established based on their mutual interests (as argued above) through anonymity, it will be easier to

Although, it can also be argued that when you see the other person face to face, the reconciliation process, although it maybe be harder, it will be more significant than when it is done over the internet

PTSD Symptoms

  • In 20th century intergroup conflict resolution, they stuck to basic communication reconciliatory method which did help some victims get past the trauma and hate towards the other group however,
  • Another point is that anyone can use it, it does not have to rely on traditional reconciliation processes.
  • Not only at an intergroup level, but also at a international level, different nations can reduce tensions by sending a simple tweet

Bridging distances

Not only does the internet provide security and prevent future PTSD experiences for those who were attacked, but also it makes reconciliation and stereotype perception between groups easier to change because it eliminates the physical distance between groups; online you can reach different people no matter your location.

  • Online; no need to be present
  • Can create things together
  • Games
  • Yair Amichai Hamburger paper

Find examples where 20th century reconciliation was limited and narrow

Possible complications

There are three possible complications regarding the use of internet as a reconciliatory medium or platform. Firstly, not everyone has access to the internet, secondly, the internet can also be used to incite violence, and finally social media algorithms create an echo chamber.

Limited Access to Internet

Although the internet in it self is an all encompassing medium and has the potential to reach millions of people in different parts of the world, there still are those people who are unable to use the internet. According to the World Atlas, as of 2018 there are 13 countries that do not have access to the internet either because of censorship from the government or because of lack of infrastructure to set up broadband (World Atlas, 2018). This would not only prevent them from being part of the internet community but would also leave them out of reconciliation opportunities that are offered online and thus stick to their main source of information; which is most likely a source that feeds their ingroup narrative about the evil out group.

Inciting Genocide

Considering that the internet is a medium that anyone can use, it could also attract different hate groups to spread their messages online. In the same way that radio was used in Rwanda to incite violence. In the 21st century, there are many examples of different terrorist organizations, political parties and hate groups using the features that the internet provides (anonymity and wide reach), in order to fuel action in real life. For instance, the ongoing genocide in Myanmar that has targeted Muslim Rohingya locals; one of the culprits for this genocide was social media.

Echo chamber; could have the opposite reaction. A news coverage by The New York Times reported that “Myanmar military personnel… turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing” which is a fact that former police and researchers have confirmed (Mozur, 2018 pp, 1). These military personnel “posed as fans of pop stars and national heroes [and] said Islam was a global threat to Buddhism”, along with more explicit fake stories of Muslims raping Buddhist women (Mozur, 2018, pp 3). Furthermore, the ability for anyone to be a content creator also leads to fake news and photoshopped images; hence showing the “power of the platform”. It such a dynamic medium that one could argue is hard to control how an individual will use its features. However, this is not an issue that will impede groups from changing their perception of the out group. Facebook was able to track down these negative and false narratives; it took time and the damage was done, but the ability to administer and remove content or fake hate profiles shows the potential for intergroups to positively interact. Amichai-hamburger agrees with this idea and suggests that in order for the internet to create a positive environment for both groups there should be an “Online Anti-prejudice leadership” (2012, pp 190). This would be a program that would give participants the necessary tools to control and manage how intergroups communicate between one another; the participants would “fights against stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination in the virtual world” (2012, pp 190).

Echochambers

This phenomenon is only seen online because the internet, especially on social networks, has algorithms that are created to feed the user with information that they like. Once the user ‘likes’ a certain page or visits certain websites, the algorithm will feed the user more of what they have liked or visited. This results in spread of information that further confirms their negative view towards the out group because there will be no alternative information directly available. The user would have to search up a different narrative then the one he is used to, in order to change the way, the algorithm feeds information. In this way, the quest to preventing and solving intergroup conflict online would have to rely on the change in algorithms; to make it a more neutral platform of information and make every website reachable despite what the user might favor.

Concluding remarks

Internet mediated communication is the key to solving intergroup conflicts because traditional methods have become trivial. Internet mediated communication as a means for intergroup conflict reduction is a progressive tool for the following reasons; groups are exposed to a considerable amount of out-group information that will challenge negative views, the factor of anonymity enables groups to interact with one another and change their beliefs and finally, it eliminates the physical distance between groups; online you can reach different people no matter your location. It would be ignorant not to highlight that solving intergroup conflict is no easy feat. There are years of psychological research to suggest that intergroup conflict will always arise because of how our brains function, we need to survive and if we stem our sense of self from those that we identify with. However, offering a much more modern approach, such as the internet, for a modern generation, a modern conflict and progressive era will definitely ease understanding between groups. The way that society has developed, it is prevalent that many people can relate to different things over the internet because of the environment that the internet offers; a secure and neutral environment that moves people away from negative group identity and towards a more personal identity that was built online and thus promotes positive outlook to the ‘out group’ due to the strength in self-esteem, which is what causes people to form negative stereotypes towards and out group in the first place.

References

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  3. Brounéus, K. (2010). The Trauma of Truth Telling: Effects of Witnessing in the Rwandan Gacaca Courts on Psychological Health. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 54(3), 408-437. doi:10.1177/0022002709360322
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  6. Forges, A. D. (2007). Call to Genocide: Radio in Rwanda, 1994. In The Media and the Rwanda Genocide (pp. 58-71). London: Pluto Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt18fs550
  7. Hogg, M. A., & Levine, J. M. (2010). Encyclopedia of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, Inc. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.rproxy.tau.ac.il/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=474340&site=ehost-live
  8. McLuhan, M. (1964). The Medium is The Message. In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Retrieved April 18, 2019, from http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/mcluhan.mediummessage.pdf
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Intergroup Conflict and Technological Mediums. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/intergroup-conflict-and-technological-mediums/
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