How to Manage Intercommunity Conflict on the Internet
Editor’s Note: This is the third Gather Community Newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to get future issues.
I’ve been working my way through a treasure trove of community-related academic papers over the last few weeks. Hey, you’re never too old to go back to school… or be a total nerd.
I found one study particularly relevant for the times we are in: four Stanford data scientists analyzed thousands of conflicts on Reddit using public data from 2014–2017. As a result, they were able to suggest a data-backed model for mediating intercommunity conflict (you can read all the juicy details here).
Based on their research, they found that the best response to intercommunity conflict is not to ignore it or wait for it to blow over. Instead, if your community is being attacked, the best response to intercommunity conflict is to mount an “angry defense.”
If we are nonpartisan in our approach to communities, the study’s findings may also suggest that we should not fear our communities coming into conflict with one another. Instead, we should be worried if one particular group attacks another and the defending group doesn’t have the tools or strength to self-organize a defense.
We have seen what happens when a defending group angrily defends their principles and becomes stronger as a result (the #metoo movement comes to mind, which has strengthened the women who have spoken up and made their voices heard).
The study also made me think: Anger is a tool, powerful when harnessed. It does not have to be at odds with kindness. Angrily, fiercely defending community boundaries and principles does not mean that you must be unkind. The idea of “kindness” was not mentioned in the study. That’s my addition, and I think it’s a vital one.
Verbalizing anger to enforce a boundary means you are being kind to yourself and honoring what is hurting you. Your anger can also be in service of others. Coach and activist Andrea Ranae (whom I met via Camp Souldust) proudly declares, for instance, that she is powered by “love, anger and a vision for liberation.” Anger can be part of what helps us find our place and helps others find safe harbor.
This is the ultimate conclusion I’m walking away with: Sometimes, we must fight to create safer communities. We must resist to create something antifragile. And we must practice that resistance, so we can be ready to exercise it when our communities need it.
This approach worked for pseudonymous communities. Do you think it would hold true for real-identity communities as well?
In the meantime, keep going. We need you.
Your friendly neighborhood community builder 💛
In the last newsletter, I explored the lessons that Anthony Bourdain taught me about shining the light on others in community work.
In response, Paras Pundir, Founder of Community Folks in Bengaluru, India, shared: “I believe that giving back to your roots should be one of the most important lessons given to a kid so as to keep the balance in the society.” He shared that his dad taught him to value using his own resources and then giving to others, asking for help when he needs it most to avoid asking for too much too soon or taking credit for others’ work. And always ensure that you’re thinking about what others get from the exchange: “In the process of building a community, we definitely have to ask a lot of [our members]… But I always plan the values those contributors will be getting before I ask them for help.”
Thank Paras for sharing some of his and his father’s wisdom by giving him a shout on Twitter!