Conflict in the network age: why is social media conflictive?

Two boats colliding
Conflict, courtesy by Raul Lieberwirth

There is a growing sensation in some circles that social media generates heated debates, that it fosters conflict. The usual answer to this is that we need more and better education. Education in tolerance, education in difference. This is correct, but it still is too generic. It would be interesting to question ourselves what is new in social media and why these new characteristics are more prone to lead to conflict. That is, what social foundations is social media transforming? Why social media seems to foster conflict and what kind of specific education can we bring to avoid it?


One of the most famous quotes by Andy Warhol is the one that states that in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. It was about new media and the power of television. In the Internet age, social media has put in the hands of (almost) everyone the equivalent of a television channel, a radio station, a journal… or many of them… at the same time.

The possibility to easily and cheaply broadcast content has led to some to broadcast their own lives. Extimacy is just that: making public one’s intimacy. This is a game changer at many levels, to begin with at the individual or psychological level.

Indeed, the Internet has enabled the possibility to be part of several different communities, or to establish flexible, liquid networks made up of a constantly changing set of nodes and relationships between these nodes. This is necessarily challenging both the sense of belonging and the very same concept of identity, which is shaped by one’s socialization activities.

Thus, social networking sites are challenging how do we understand ourselves and, at the same time, offering new powerful tools to manage this understanding of one’s self and our own social liaisons. This is unprecedented and there is no way back.

The new public-private sphere

In this new scenario of constant evolution of both the self and the collective — which, by the way, we are just beginning to copse, not to speak about managing or even understanding — the new communication practices have a strong role. A new role which will enhance, boost, multiply what the outcomes of previous communication practices.

First of all, the blurring of the division between the public sphere and the private one is playing tricks on the actors taking part on communication actions. Although we are beginning to master the new tools — and thus there are some cynical practices emerging — most of the times outcomes are unexpected and, some times, out of the borders of the charted territories of society (or Law).

On of these changes is the reach of some actions. Where before one would reach but a bunch of people, now the target is literally thousands, when not the whole (connected) humankind.

Another one is the impact, the depth, of some of these actions. The communicative intensity now enhanced by ICTs or social media cannot only affect more people, but more intensively.

Last, these actions can easily feedback and scale, thus multiplying their effects. This is, again, a game changer: as it happened with the Industrial Revolution, now ICTs multiply our actions in unprecedented ways. Mind the difference between adding and multipliying: the sign of the initial action (positive or negative) does matter.


Changes in identity and sense of belonging. Changes in the reach, impact and multiplication factor. This would only be serious if it were not for the fact that people now are on their own, which makes things very serious.

Yes, it is true that people have always been able to act on their own, or be on their own. But the question is that now most of this very powerful acts can be done without any kind of intermediary. That is, besides or despite institutions. Or, in other words, without the contribution of the most important socio-politic actors, including family, associations, political institutions of all kinds, traditional media, etc.

There are at least three aspects where institutions contributed to healthy behaviours — including communications, interactions, debates.

Firstly, they contributed to “filter“, in the sense of getting the best information at hand, from the most legitimate actors, and in the most convenient tempos (there are failures in doing this, of course, but this is another matter).

Secondly, they contributed to establish neat codes and channels. That is, they reduced noise and enhanced signal, including diplomacy, manners, an agreed language and tone.

Thirdly, and probably most important, they added context as they benefited from a advantageous situation which provided a panoramic vision of things, of people, of relationships, of interactions.

New literacies for new conflicts

Summing up: we are learning or new self, our new sense of belonging; whatever we do potentially has more impact both in reach and depth, and it will potentially replicate; and we are getting rid of the institutions that helped us to have an acceptable social behaviour, to make the best of the tools we had at hand.

So, when we say that education is the best tool to prevent conflict, we are not only talking about education as usual, but about brand new skills to master and control the new powerful tools that ICTs and social media put in our hands. And it is not only digital literacy in the sense of knowing how to use a computer, or an Internet browser. Not even digital literacy in the sense of knowing where to get good information and how to manage it. It is about new strategic literacies to live in a brand new world that is just disclosing itself.

This post was based on the notes that I prepared for the round table Conflict resolution at sports, part of the 1st Conference on Sport, conflict management and mediation, organized by the Bar Association of Barcelona and taking place in Barcelona in September 29th, 2016.


EAIE2014 (III). Social media content curation: tips, tricks and winning strategies

Notes from the 26th Annual EAIE Conference, held in Prague, Czech Republic, on 16-19 September 2014. More notes on this event: eaie2014.

Social media content curation: tips, tricks and winning strategies
Chair: Jessica Winters, University of Groningen, Netherlands

What is good content? How to find good content? What to post where?

Mandy Reinig, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, USA

What is content curation? search, filter, sort and present content.

  1. Spot it
  2. Stock it
  3. Share it

Curation is manually sourcing and posting content relevant to your niche and audience, while aggregation is automated feeds/content collected from using key words/phrases. Content curation takes more time.

Kellie McMullin, Nova Scotia Community College, Canada

Content curation strategy:

  • Who is your target audience? Knowing your audience, their interests, is key.
  • What are your goals? You have to have them, so that you can measure your performance and your impact: contact, inform, customer service, recruitment, branding, etc.
  • What types of sources do you want to draw from?
  • What content collection tools do you want to use?
  • How often will you check for new content? It depends on the platform and, especially, on the goals. Consistency is key.
  • Who will check for new content? It is not as important the who but consistency in who is in charge of it. Using students can be a good bet, as they often are the target audience themselves, are savvy on social media use.
  • How often will you post the content?

Jessica Winters, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Posting on Facebook:

  • Best length is 80 characters or less (80-130 characters). The goal is to tease the user to click on the link, not to make them read the whole stuff on Facebook.
  • Visual: add a picture or a good video.
  • As questions.
  • Be authentic, be honest.
  • Quality, not quantity. It is better to post once a day a good thing than posting noise several times a day.
  • Content: pride (being a student at the uni, stuff about the university, local/regional news/information), current events (only the relevant ones), college-humor, student-related, famous people.

It is important to identify one’s social ambassadors.

Kellie McMullin, Nova Scotia Community College, Canada

Content curation tools: how to choose the right tool for you? It depends on your goals, your audience and the form of content (pictures, videos, articles) that you want.

List of content curation tools
  • Keep content simple. Simple things is what people will read.
  • Be real and relevant.
  • Post your passion. Don’t post because something has to be posted.
  • Student-produced material. And tag the students’ content!
  • Contests.

Jessica Winters, University of Groningen, Netherlands

If you aim at recruiting international students, you have to be on the social media that they are using, the sites that are popular in their respective countries, with their cultural codes, in their language.

Using Hootsuite as a content curation tool, not only for social media, but also to follow/subscribe to RSS feeds.


Q: What about sponsord posts on Facebook? Winters: they work a little bit better than regular posts, but not too much. You can do that every now and then, it is not very expensive, but it is not terrific.

Ismael Peña-López: what about content produced by faculty members? Winters: the problem with this content is not quality —which is good— but the focus, which is usually too narrow and addressed to a very specific/specialized audience.

Q: What about trolls? Winters: we usually ignore them and, in fact, students themselves will many times fight them back.


26th Annual EAIE Conference (2014)

Advantages and disadvantages of social web technologies in learning

My colleagues Ana Rodera, Anna Espasa and Teresa Guasch asked me to answer a survey in the framework of the eLene2Learn research project.

Amongst all the questions, there were two the answers I provided I would like to keep… and share. I answered quite quickly and they come here in the rough. I am sure a thorough reflection would present more accurate thoughts, but I don’t think the general idea would change a lot:

What are the main advantages of teaching-learning using social web technologies?

  • More control on the learning process by the learners themselves.
  • More focus on the learning part, trading with a lesser weight on the teaching part.
  • Increased importance of the learning process, with decreased (relative) importance of the content in the syllabus.
  • Opening of the formal learning processes towards scenarios belonging to the scope of non-formal learning and, especially, of informal learning.
  • Dramatic increase of the learning resources (content, experts, tools) at the learners’ reach.
  • Merging (and confusion) of the different areas of life: learning, professional, personal, leisure.

What are the main disadvantages of teaching-learning using social web technologies?

  • They demand high (or highest) digital competences. These are a must to make the best of social web technologies and an important barrier of entrance.
  • They require a certain knowledge in identifying one’s training and educational needs and being able to formulate them as such.
  • They require a certain capacity to design (autonomous) learning strategies.
  • Abundance of resources imply that filtering becomes necessary and, thus, filtering competences are important.
  • Even with the appropriate filtering competences, noise and distraction will happen.
  • Merging (and confusion) of the different areas of life: learning, professional, personal, leisure (indeed, this is a double edged sword).


Predictions for Social Media in 2010

Social Media consultant Marc Cortés has kindly invited me to join a 27 people document where to draft our Predictions for Social Media in 2010. Though most of the professionals featured in the document come from the communications and marketing field — and, hence, the final outcome is populated with advice and forecasts on related topics — there is also a little room for politics and governments.

My reflections, though not explicitly stated, are more targeted towards researchers and knowledgeable people — to whom the Web 2.0 has at last provided a voice on their own despite their affiliation — and to knowledge workers and knowledge intensive institutions in general.

I here below translate my part into English and reproduce the full document and the “headlines” of all other contributors.

Social media will channel activity towards what is relevant: the portfolio

In the coming years we will be closing the circle and be back to personal and institutional websites, though these will in any way look like the ones we visited in the dawn of the World Wide Web.

We have performed a necessary initiation journey taken by the hand of social media, so that we could be introduced to the new and growing possibilities of the Web. Blogs and wikis showed us what was possible in a bi-directional Web, where content and even services creation could be decentralized and exit institutions. Social networking sites added the human factor to the network we had recently created: bi-directionality became multi-directionality, multi-diffusion. Blogs created the bourgeoisie of the Internet, and social networking sites opened it up and democratized it for the rest of the society.

But it is as easy to use social media as it is difficult to manage them and make them work for out benefit. It is likely that whoever wants or has to have a reputation on the Internet just cannot keep having tentacles without a visible head. Social media must be funnels that lead to us: we neither can manage chaor eternally, nor can we expect that whoever looks for us finds us or reconstruct us amongst this total maze of confusion.

This does not mean that we are not present in the relevant channels: it is there where we will mainly interact. But the critical mass of our digital persona must be as near as possible to our self.

What we do, what we are must be centralized. It is the image of what we do and become the one that has to be decentralized, not the essence.

I plead for the construction of the portfolio, for a return to the personal or institutional website, using social media as a game of mirrors that reflects us where we should also be present.

Predictions for Social Media in 2010

Please visit to see embedded document.

Alfonso Alcantara: Consultor y coach en desarrollo profesional y empleo 2.0
“En 2010 las redes sociales definitivamente serán las autopistas de las ideas.”

Jacobo Álvarez: Director Negocio Grupo Intercom y Socio en Multiplica
“El 2010 el año en el que, al menos en el móvil, la suma de geolocalización y redes personales y profesionales nos liberen del exceso de información y nos ayude a acceder a información más relevante de nuestro entorno”

Jose Luis Antúnez: Fundador de YouAre y Coorganizador de Evento Blog España
“El real-time es la extrapolación de la vida real a la web. Y en la vida real se hace dinero vendiendo y pagando cosas”.

Enrique Burgos: Responsable de Marketing Relacional de Unidad Editorial
“Solo demostrando el valor que aporta a las marcas (económico & imagen) se lograra una mayor comprensión por las altas direcciones de las empresas”

Cesar Calderón: Socio Director en Autoritas Consulting
“2010 será el año en el que las administraciones públicas descubran los Social Media y comiencen a conversar con los ciudadanos”

Marc Cortés: Socio-Director RocaSalvatella y Profesor Marketing Electrónico (ESADE)
“Dejaremos de hablar de Social Media y empezaremos a hablar de Social Business”.

Adolfo Corujo y todo el equipo de Llorente & Cuenca: Director Senior Llorente&Cuenca
“Para el usuario, 2010 será el año de… La explosión de la búsqueda en Tiempo Real”

Roberto Carreras: Consultor de Comunicación y RRPP
“La web en tiempo real, que durante 2009 dio sus primeros pasos como fenómeno, vivirá en 2010 su consolidación.”

Fernando de la Rosa: Socio y fundador de Seis Grados
“2010 es un año de re-invenciones: el principio de nuevos mercados y la agonía de otros”.

Roger Domingo: Director Editorial Deusto / Gestión 2000/ Alienta / CEAC
“La incorporación del mundo de la empresa a las redes sociales conllevará también un incremento de la publicidad en las mismas, lo cual pondrá en peligro la tan deseada “conversación cluetrainiania””

Fernado Fegido: Director de Negocio Digital de Caja Navarra
“El año 2010 será otro año en el que deberemos de seguir evangelizando y capacitando a muchos responsables de Márketing y Comunicación”

Tristán Elósegui: Responsable de Marketing Digital de Canal+ y Organizador del The Monday Reading Club
“La crisis va a favorecer el crecimiento de los medios sociales”

Ricard Espelt: Regidor de Nuevas Tecnologías de Copons
“La ciudadanía, cada vez más consciente del poder de las redes sociales, va a provocar pequeñas “revoluciones” en el devenir de la política española”

Marek Fodor: Emprendedor y Business Angel del sector tecnológico
“Bajará notablemente el crecimiento de twitter, comparado con el año 2009”.

Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez: Responsable de Comunidad del BBVA
“Se dará el caso de comunidades enteras que renuncian a las redes sociales, que se bautizarán como “Amish digitales””

Albert García Pujadas: CEO Nikodemo
“El video se impondrá como formato de comunicación habitual y como soporte publicitario de primer orden”

Xavier Guell: Weyoose y Coorganizador de Cava&Twitts
“Adiós humo, hola servicio”

Javier Martín: Blogger y emprendedor
Es la hora de vender!

Jose Antonio del Moral: CEO de Alianzo
“Volveremos a hablar de Web 2.0 y no tanto de social media. En el fondo todo es social y no sólo los media”

Ícaro Moyano: Director Comunicación tuenti
“¿GRPs? Mejor recomendaciones”

Sebastian Muriel: Director de
“Será el año en el que no se dejará de hablar del Social Media en los medios tradicionales”

José Luis Orihuela: Profesor de la Universidad de Navarra
“La red y sus aplicaciones se vivirán cada vez más como una experiencia móvil”

Alberto Ortiz de Zárate: Director de Atención Ciudadana en Gobierno Vasco
“Empezaremos a hacer un uso inteligente de las redes sociales. En ese camino, la relevancia se desplazará de las herramientas hacia las estrategias de comunicación”

Ismael Peña-López: Profesor Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
“Abogo por una construcción del portafolio, por una vuelta a la web personal o institucional, utilizando los social media como un juego de espejos que nos refleje allí donde debamos estar también presentes”

Genis Roca: Socio Director RocaSalvatella
“En resumen, las palabras clave para este 2010 serán: Indicadores, Gestión y Resultados”.

Esteban Trigos: Marketing Innovator Director – Double You
“las marcas empezarán a incorporar en sus mensajes un nuevo giro a la hora de comportarse: serán más sociales

Marc vidal: CEO de Cink
“Será el momento de los Net estrategy por encima de los Managers de comunidad”.

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