“Contact Theory” is a robust academic theory showing that contact between groups typically reduces prejudice and improves intergroup relations. Originally developed in the field of social psychology in the mid-20th century, this theory has since been repeatedly verified and further explored, including as a conflict resolution tool in contexts of political violent conflict. In practice, bringing adversaries together is a prominent peacebuilding strategy and a significant part of any dialogue, negotiation, or mediation process: at some point, parties meet.
At the same time, accelerated processes of digitalization in the 21st century have drastically changed the possibilities for interpersonal encounters. Now meeting online, in electronically mediated interactions, is both possible and commonplace. Participants may even prefer digital meetings due to their perceived convenience, overcoming limitations related to political, security, climate, health, or financial considerations, to name but a few.
The question then arises: to what extent is intergroup contact effective in positively influencing intergroup attitudes and relations online? Reviewing both current academic literature and experiences from practice, this paper attempts to answer this question and provide initial guidance to peace practitioners who – whether by choice or necessity – organize encounters between groups in conflict online.
(Originally published here)