Everyday Diplomacy: Dealing with controversy online and face-to-face

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Discussions about controversial topics, such as immigration, seem to get out of hand more easily when they take place online than when they are conducted face-to-face. It is often assumed that this is because people express themselves less clearly or more ambiguously online due to missing non-verbal signals, or because people become disinhibited online due to feeling anonymous. In this dissertation, we call these assumptions into question by studying what happens within online and face-to-face discussions. We closely examined behavior and social perceptions in conversations: How do interaction partners interact and how does this affect their relationship?

We asked groups of unacquainted students to discuss about politically controversial topics via a text-based chat and face-to-face. We found that people express their opinions more clearly or less ambiguously in text-based chats than in face-to-face conversations. We also found that people respond less to each other online. This is due to the way the textual and asynchronous medium limits behavior, but people don't seem to acknowledge this. They do not feel heard because they get the idea that their interlocutors are mainly concerned with venting their own opinion. As a result, people think that they disagree more than they actually do and experience more conflict. This offers a new perspective on online polarization and disinhibition: people can feel polarized and get the idea that their interlocutor is disinhibited without that being the case, purely because of the way the online medium steers behavior.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Postmes, Tom, Promotor, External person
  • Koudenburg, Namkje, Co-promotor, External person
  • Spears, R., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Krahmer, Emiel, Member PhD commission
  • Kashima, Y. , Promotor, External person
Award date22 Sept 2022
Place of PublicationGroningen
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes


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