Twitter app on a phone
Twitter app on a phone

Finding de-escalation strategies

1 January 2023 until 31 January 2024
Project type

Nowadays, it is not unusual that a discussion, whether IRL or online, tragically derails, when participants vehemently disagree, and when reconciliation is difficult to obtain. There is a plethora of examples regarding national vaccination policies, discussions in parliament, or violence against aid workers (to name only a few). In the case of such disagreements, it seems as if participants no longer know how to find their way back to a normal discussion level.

In order to examine what expectations language users have of conflict, of resolving disagreements and of helping out (in the case of by-standers), I intend to further develop the Twitter-corpus I have already compiled. This corpus serves to examine how norms and values play a role in online interactions. Thus far, I have reason to believe that in online interaction, politeness rules have changed considerably: it is simulated proximity and simulated authenticity that govern the accepted interaction paradigm. Webcare personal that uses language strategies that make them appear more authentic and more aligned, receives more positive feedback from initial complainants. With the help of corpus analysis, and online quasi-experiments, I hope to find more evidence for these trends. I also hope to verify whether these two axes (proximity and authenticity) may be used to restore the balance between discussion partners. What is more, on the basis of these findings, I hope to develop a workshop tool, that helps other people apply de-escalation strategies.

The database contains twitter-threads from 30 different companies. The dataset is a large set of 1985 discussion threads of customers with a service complaint and their webcare respondents. Webcare employees seem to have succeeded, on the basis of a growing community practice of consensus and understanding, in finding techniques that calm down indignant complainants. With the help of a corpus analysis, that investigates the uptake of the complaint, and the uptake of this uptake [i.e., the answer of the initial complainant to the service employee], these techniques can be isolated. In a series of subsequent experiments, I examine whether the same techniques can be transposed to other domains (public debates, appeasing abusive by-standers, mediation).  I hope to find out whether strategies of verbal de-escalation can be learnt and taught.

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