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NULab Faculty Brooke Foucault Welles Featured on “Dialogue and Action in an Age of Divides”

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The series “Dialogue and Action in an Age of Divides” is a cross-university initiative in which participating scholars tackle difficult issues and model constructive dialogue. Addressing the growing polarization that often permeates the divisive platforms of social media, the newest panel of the series, “Constructive Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” was held on April 2nd, 2024.

Deb Roy, director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, was the moderator of this panel. Northeastern’s own Brooke Foucault Welles, associate dean of research and professor of communication studies, was a panelist, alongside: Linda Charmaraman, senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women and director of the Youth, Media, and Wellbeing Research Lab at Wellesley College; Jonathan Corpus Ong, associate professor of global digital media and director of the Global Technology for Social Justice Lab at UMass Amherst; and Nick Seaver, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Science, Technology and Society Program at Tufts University.

The panelists were in agreement that social media can be an impediment to the kind of constructive dialogue that opens up modes of communication and understanding, and often grants digital megaphones to negativity and dehumanization. However, panelists also discussed the optimistic side of social media.

Brooke Foucault Welles says social media has played an integral role in news coverage and political discourse. For example, she studied the 2014 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and its poignant imprint on national consciousness; Welles’s research showed that community members were able to utilize social media strategically to elevate Ferguson into the national dialogue. Welles also discussed social media’s ability to encourage protest attendance across social groups. Welles says, “I think there‘s no more promising way that we might use social media than to introduce new stories to make us empathetic with different ideas, and to have people actually show up to create social change.”

On the potentially lasting impacts of these kinds of breakthroughs, Welles also comments that: “Everyone knows what #MeToo means now, right?” she said. “Not everyone’s participating in those conversations the way we want, but more people are participating now than they were in 2015, more people were participating in 2015 than they were in 2000, and so on. Progress is incremental and there’s always going to be fits and starts, but I feel hopeful that [social media] is still a place where this can happen.”

You can read the full story, “Empowerment, Community, and Empathy in the Social Media Era,” on Tufts Now.

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