Online social regulation: When everyday diplomatic skills of harmonious disagreement break down



In group discussions, people rely on everyday diplomatic skills to socially regulate the interaction, maintain harmony, and avoid escalation. This article compares social regulation in online and face-to-face (FtF) groups. It studies the micro-dynamics of online social interactions in response to disagreements. Thirty-two triads discussed, in a repeated measures design, controversial topics via text-based online chat and FtF. The fourth group member was a confederate who voiced a deviant (right-wing) opinion. Results show that online interactions were less responsive and less ambiguous compared with FtF discussions. This affected participants’ social attributions: they felt their interaction partners ignored them and displayed disinhibited behavior. This also had relational consequences: participants experienced polarization and less solidarity. These results offer a new perspective on the process of online polarization: this might not be due to changes in individual psychology (e.g., disinhibition), but to misattributions of online behavior.
Date made available14-Apr-2022

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