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Face-to-face conflict resolution must be resurrected in the digital age

Within the past decade, I have noticed a major shift in society’s conflict resolution and argumentation strategies, as they have gone from face-to-face confrontation to uncensored text messages and passive aggressive tweets or Facebook posts.

Although I’m sure the trend began sometime shortly before this, my first recollection of technology-mediated arguments happened in junior high school when all my friends were getting their first cell phones. Suddenly, playground fights became prank calls and anonymous MySpace posts, as the platform for argumentation turned invisible and censorship was lost. And back then, I thought it was bad.


Sadly, the trend has only worsened with the birth of the smartphone, social media platforms and apps like Snapchat, which facilitate cyberbullying and technological alternatives to face-to-face conflict resolution in countless ways. Since people tend to choose their words much more carefully in face-to-face confrontations—often due to fear of awkwardness or of physical aggression—screens provide the perfect shield of cowardice between ruthless arguers or the bully and victim.

Snapchat, for example, is the ideal medium for people to send each other provocative or offensive pictures and captions within the comfort of the photo’s time limit before it vanishes forever—or so they think. Although this is a more covert method of bullying than Facebook and text messaging, nothing sent through cyberspace is ever truly erased, and there have been many instances of these photos resurfacing.

According to Nico Sell, security expert and founder of Wickr messaging app, “Most of the time, your ‘deleted’ Instagram snaps or Facebook posts—or possibly Snapchats—are still lurking on a server somewhere.” Still, this fact does not seem to dissuade the aforementioned interactions.

Even though text messages and Snaps seem easy to “erase,” the emotional and psychological effects on victims of cyberbullying are often long-lasting and painful.

Since over 80 percent of teens now use a cell phone on a regular basis, cyberbullying has become one of the most common forms of bullying, with about half of teens having been the victims of cyber bullying in their lifetime. This has played an enormous role in rising childhood and teenage suicide rates, as suicide is now the third leading cause of death among young people, according to a Yale University study. Just last month, two eleven-year-olds in Fort Collins’ Poudre School District committed suicide with presumed causes related to bullying.

I realize that bullying is an age-old problem that has merely taken on new forms throughout time, and will continue to develop as technology and society change. But cyberbullying is only one issue within a bigger dilemma. Needless to say, we as a generation and a society have formed unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict that are no longer original or clever, but habitual.

Throughout high school and college especially, I have dealt with many friends who would have done anything to avoid confrontation, no matter how small the problem was. Too many times have I asked, “What’s wrong?” and gotten nothing in response, only to check Twitter or Facebook later and see a passive-aggressive post that is clearly targeted at me and the problem at hand. Yet what people who act like this don’t understand, is that these posts prolong problems that could easily be solved with discussion and compromise.

Not to mention, passive-aggressive social media posts are a clear sign of insecurity and inability to do something so natural and fundamental to human coexistence: reconciliation. As the generation that invented cyberbullying, we need to stop hiding behind our screens and relearn how to resolve conflict like those before us who managed without them. 



Collegian Columnist Laurel Thompson can be reached at or on Twitter @laurelanne1996.

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