The Deliberative Potential of CMC The Deliberative Potential of Computer-Mediated Communication: The Effects of Incoherence, Anonymity, and Time On the Interpersonal Requirements of Deliberation Andrew Waits Advisor: Professor Kirsten Foot University of Washington 1 The Deliberative Potential of CMC 2 Introduction The decline of political participation and engagement in the public sphere in the past several decades has resulted in significant changes to the role of citizens in the political process. Overall, social networks and the norms of reciprocity which arise from these networks are slowly declining (Putnam, 1999). The result is a decrease in “social capital”, which determines our society’s capacity for collective action (Putnam, 1999). There are several factors which contribute to this decline. One of which is the evolution of new technologies which increasingly distances us not only from our political representatives, but from each other. The affect of this limited exposure has turned most citizens from actors to spectators in the political process (Edelman, 1988; Peters, 1995). Furthermore, the nature of political discourse within the public sphere has changed (Sennett, 1977). Public argument and discussion traditionally took place on a localized level, encouraging participation from community-based citizens. Today, public discourse is argued to be a non-interactive, distant, and passive communication event (Hollihan, Klumpp, & Riley, 1999), in which political elites speak for the general public as the “voice of reason”. Despite several disadvantages of our evolving mass mediated environment, new information and communication technologies (ICTs) available to ordinary citizens, such as the Internet, are reinventing the possibilities for citizens to engage in public discourse. The implication of the Internet on public discourse is a topic of interest and debate among communication and political scholars. Proponents of deliberative democracy view the Internet as a means of enhancing the public sphere through the notion of deliberation (Bohman, 1996; Cohen, 2002; Dahl, 1989). Text-based synchronous and The Deliberative Potential of CMC 3 asynchronous Internet platforms, such as email, listserv, message boards, and chat rooms, are perceived as possible deliberative environments which could strengthen the legitimacy and availability of public discussion and debate. The potential of these mediums providing a venue for deliberation has led several scholars to question the democratizing effect of the Internet and whether or not it fosters deliberative discussion. However, there are no simple or general answers to these questions. Benjamin Barber (1999) claims that the problem with these questions, which drive a majority of research into the deliberative and democratic potential of the Internet, is that there is no clear conception of what sort of democracy is intended which is driving the development of the Internet. “Is it representative democracy, plebiscitary democracy, or deliberative democracy for which we seek technological implementation?”(Barber, 1999, p. 585) The Internet can help democracy and public discourse, but only if configured to support meaningful interaction and only in terms of the paradigms and political theories that inform the program (Barber, 1999). Unless we are clear about what democracy means to us, and what kind of democracy we envision, the Internet is as likely to stunt as to enhance the civic polity. In the case of deliberative democracy, which is the focus of this paper, environments must be programmed and designed according to tested theories of deliberation. While this idea has began to be embraced in offline environments with the creation of the National Issues Forum, the National Issues Convention, and citizen juries, online environments have received far less structural attention. Instead, research into the deliberative potential of the Internet has focused primarily on the limitations imposed by computer messaging systems. For example, many view the Internet as a medium unfit The Deliberative Potential of CMC 4 for fostering deliberation due to the relative communicative incoherence, and homogenizing effect (Herring, 1999; Weger & Aakhus, 2003; Wilhelm, 2000). However, these are arguments made against an environment built without the intention of supporting deliberative behavior. Therefore, is it really computer-mediated communication (henceforth CMC) itself that is ill-suited to conduct political deliberation or the environment in which CMC takes place? These same arguments of incoherence and homogenization are made against everyday offline face-to-face communication as well. Everyday political conversation tends to be between people who share similar views (Wyatt, Katz, & Kim, 2000), and many times, discussion is anything but coherent and on topic. Therefore, CMC should not be expected to be deliberative if it is not placed within an environment that is purposely designed to foster deliberation. The purpose of this paper is to examine the possible affordances of asynchronous CMC for conducting political deliberation given that it takes place in a structured environment informed by deliberation theory. More specifically this paper is concerned with how, when structured, certain features of CMC may hold the comparative advantage over face- to-face communication in fulfilling the communicative and participatory requirements of deliberation. To this end, I will begin by discussing the frequently cited issue of incoherence in CMC and argue that it is not an innate quality of CMC, but, rather an effect of an environment uninformed by deliberative theory. I will then discuss two possible features of computer-mediated environments, anonymity and loose time constraints, to determine what they may have to offer the communicative and interpersonal requirements of deliberation, given that they are structured in a specific way. However, it will first be beneficial to further explain the foundational argument that The Deliberative Potential of CMC 5 neither face-to-face, nor CMC are inclined to promoting deliberation in an unstructured environment. Furthermore, since this paper is generally concerned with the communicative and interpersonal functions of deliberation I will then advance a definition of deliberation developed by Burkhalter, Gastil, and Kelshaw (2002) which focuses on these aspects. The Importance of Structure in Fostering Political Deliberation The foundational argument driving this paper is that neither face-to-face, nor CMC, is more inclined to foster deliberative discussion. Rather, when people discuss politics in an online and offline setting what they are doing is better categorized as political conversation (Stromer-Galley, 2002). This argument is based upon deliberation theory and research which illustrate the importance of structure and process to deliberation. It is currently understood that everyday offline communication is by no means deliberative (Walzer, 1990; from Conover et al., 2002). With respect to deliberation, CMC that takes place in chat rooms and on discussion boards is very similar. Studies measuring the deliberative quality of online political discussion found it to lack any real deliberative quality (Davis, 1999; Wilhelm, 2000). However, attempting to measure the deliberative quality of a discussion in an unstructured online or offline setting assumes that deliberation is something that people would do voluntarily. Rather, political deliberation is an uncomfortable, often difficult process, in which to engage (Schudson, 1997). Without an environment specifically designed for deliberation, citizens will likely choose to engage in what is called political conversation. Elaborating on the notion of deliberation, and its counterpart conversation, the former entails a problem-solving (Gutman & Thompson, 1996) and community building The Deliberative Potential of CMC 6 function (Muhlberger, 2000), while the latter only a sociable function (Schudson, 1977). Political conversation better describes the organic political discussions that take place online (Stromer-Galley, 2002). Online settings such as AOL chat and Usenet discussion groups are loosely structured and lack moderation. They provide a forum for declarative and argumentative discussion with loosely defined purposes. In contrast to the organic quality of political conversation taking place online, deliberation requires structure and guidelines. The structural and participatory requirements of an institution or discussion group determine the quality of deliberation that occurs (Witschge, 2002). “If we allow that there is such a thing as communicative rationality (deliberation)…, then the political challenge becomes one of constructing institutions for its promotion” (Dryzek, 1990, p.411; as cited by Steenbergen et al., 2001). Institutions must be structured with the purpose and goal of fostering deliberative discussion. It is, therefore, understandable that deliberation would not occur in a setting ill-equipped and purposely built to foster political conversation such as AOL chat or Usenet discussion groups. The fact that political conversation is common leads some scholars to conclude that it is a very important part of the public sphere (Conover et al., 2002; Wyatt, Katz et al., 2000). Political conversation serves a social function, allowing individuals to understand themselves better and their situation in the world (Arendt, 1958). Some believe that “it fosters the bettering of the individual, which in turn, makes him or her a better citizen in the society” (Stromer-Galley, 2002, p.12). The general idea of deliberative democracy, however, is that political conversation does not serve democracy if it is not deliberative and amongst a heterogeneous group of people (Witschge, 2002). The Deliberative Potential of CMC 7 Political conversation, therefore, should not be called or considered a substitution for deliberation (Witschge, 2002). Online political conversation, furthermore, mirrors what people do offline. Citizens mostly have conversations that are spontaneous, unstructured and without clear goals (Walzer, 1990; from Conover et al., 2002). Deliberations should be planned, conducted according to specific procedures, and meant to produce an outcome such as consensus (Conover et al., 2002). Furthermore, deliberation is rigorous and requires far more from its participants than political conversation. Therefore, because political conversation is something which people do in both online and offline settings, it follows that neither form of communication, without the proper institutional structure, innately fosters deliberative discussion. An Interpersonal Definition of Deliberation In the past 10 years, deliberation has been the focus of research in many fields, including communication, public opinion, and political philosophy. Although deliberative democracy has received ever increasing theoretical and research attention in recent years, theorists have not agreed on what deliberation is (Muhlberger, 2002). The consequences of such a loose understanding of deliberation are many. According to Burkhalter et al. (2002), theoretical ambiguity can lead to incommensurate works on what theorists presume to be the same subject. Rather than focusing on the deliberation as a means to an end (political legitimacy), I consider deliberation as a goal in itself. Rather than determining that a discussion is deliberative by looking at an end result, such as opinion change, I analyze the communicative and participatory requirements outlined by deliberation theory which determine what separates deliberation from political The Deliberative Potential of CMC 8 conversation, debate, or argument. Therefore, for the purpose of this project, which deals with the interpersonal requirements of deliberation, I will advance a specific definition of deliberation developed by Burkhalter et al. (2002) which focuses on these aspects. Despite different emphases on the common theme, many writers explain that public deliberation is primarily about the careful weighing of the various consequences of action, as well as the views of others (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Drawing from Gouran and Hirokawa’s (1996) model of the functional theory of group decision, Burkhalter et al. (2002) state that a group is more likely to make a logical, reasoned and informed decision if its members analyze the nature of the problem at hand, identify a range of possible solutions, and establish evaluative criteria which are then used to judge the merits of each solution. Further clarification of these interpersonal and communicative elements represents what is required of group members and the environment to make a discussion truly deliberative. Information According to Gouran & Hirokawa (1996), a discussion is more deliberative if it incorporates accurate knowledge of relevant information. Given the different ways of knowing, negotiation of the relevance and authoritative backing of empirical claims must proceed throughout deliberation. It is impossible to know beforehand what information will be viewed as relevant to a discussion; therefore, participants must be allowed or provided access to a wide variety of information and sources (Burkhalter et al., 2002). “One cannot expect democratic citizens to govern themselves effectively if they cannot access the diverse data needed to make informed decisions” (Burkhalter et al., 2002). The Deliberative Potential of CMC 9 Burkhalter is careful to stress the importance of personal experience as a valid source of information upon which to base deliberative claims. As Herbst (1995) points out, rationalistic accounts of public voice implicitly privilege impersonal information, such as survey data, objective measurements, and statistics, because these forms of data transcend an individual’s personal biases. It is important to point out that they also represent the commonly accepted notion of “evidence” in much of Western society. The definition of authoritative public voice is therefore extended to include bearing witness (Barber, 1984) or offering personal testimony (Mansbridge, 1990; Sanders, 1997). The communicative importance of information is significant to consider when assessing how anonymity and loose time constraints may affect the gathering and allowance of certain forms of information. Considering a Range of Solutions In Gouran & Hirokawa’s (1996) functional theory of group decision making, a discussion is more deliberative if participants consider a range of solutions. Participants must present their own views and approaches to problems, as well as strive to consider views across the political spectrum which may not be held directly by any of the group’s members (Burkhalter et al., 2002). While it is absurd to believe that any one small faceto-face group, no matter how heterogenous, can represent the whole of a population, members must strive to incorporate the full spectrum of views on the public good (Fishkin, 1995). Most importantly, participants should transcend and work beyond the broad range of preexisting views to innovate new solutions that meet the diverse interests failed to be met by the current alternatives (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Therefore, discussion should not be constructed in a way that limits the options of the group. The Deliberative Potential of CMC 10 Participants mustn’t assume that there are two, or three, preexisting solutions to the given problem upon commencement of discussion. Evaluative Criteria The establishment of evaluative criteria upon which the merits of each solution is judged is vital to the deliberative success of any group discussion (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Different groups of people hold different criteria upon which they evaluate certain solutions. In order to take into account and truly understand the goals and values of all members, prior to discussion participants must talk explicitly of their own evaluative criteria. If members are unable to agree upon a common set of evaluative criteria, they will, however, be mindful that such conflicts in interest exist. Discussions that do not involve discussion of evaluative criteria fail to be truly deliberative. As Burkhalter et al explain, “Without specific discussion of evaluative criteria, people will assume common values; this has the effect of silencing potential differences” (Burkhalter el al., 2002). Many times, especially in moral dispute, it is likely that people do not discuss these problem either out of discomfort, lack of knowledge, or the assumption that other share similar values (Pearce & Littlejohn, 1997). Deliberation can only occur during conflict if participants acknowledge the underlying values residing within each participant’s contribution. How loose time constraints and anonymity influence the discussion of evaluative criteria is important to consider when designing the ideal deliberative environments. Participation Rights and Responsibilities An interpersonal definition of deliberation must also specify the behavior of individual participants and the interactions among them (Burkhalter et al, 2002). This The Deliberative Potential of CMC 11 involves talking more in depth of the rights and responsibilities of participants. It must be remembered that deliberation is as much a product of participants as it is the environment. Deliberative discussion requires that certain participatory rights must be open to every participant. Participants must interact in a very specific ways. Sufficient Opportunity to Speak/Mutual Respect The most fundamental attitude that deliberation requires of participants is that of mutual respect (Benhabib, 1992; Fishkin, 1991; Gutmann & Thompson, 1996). Simply put, mutual respect entails that participants understand the importance of every member. But what does this really mean? In an attempt to explain, I will discuss the equal distribution of voice and the commitment to understanding. In small face-to-face groups, deliberation requires that each participant have the equal opportunity to speak (Gastil, 1993). This does not mean that every participant is required to speak; however, they must understand that they have the opportunity and the responsibility to do so. Equal floor time for each participant is important when the group faces time constraints. However, if time allows, it must be understood that some people may require more time than others to articulate their views (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Equal speaking opportunities are important, however, it is more important that a diversity of views be heard. While the environment may place constraints on participants’ opportunities to speak, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the participants themselves to make sure that everyone has a sufficient opportunity to talk. Furthermore, an equal opportunity to speak does not mean that each participant have the same amount of time to speak, but, rather that the necessary amount of time is allotted based on the need of the group. In other words, the structure of the discussion may require that everyone has The Deliberative Potential of CMC 12 twenty minutes to speak; however, it is the responsibility of participants to constrain individuals as little as possible it the expression of their views for the sake of the deliberative quality of the discussion. This commitment to the distribution of voice within a discussion stems from the mutual respect of participants. Mutual respect also entails that participants are committed to understanding and taking into consideration the views of others (Fishkin, 1991). Egocentric behavior can create the false appearance of deliberation (Hewes, 1996). People can carry on a conversation that seems to involve a sincere exchange of ideas; when in fact the ideas being exchanged are exclusive from one another. Mutual respect embodies the idea of a sufficient opportunity to speak, as well as the equal opportunity to be heard (Fishkin, 1991). If participants share a mutual respect, each recognizes the right and importance of all other participants to be part of the conversation, regardless of their characteristics. Furthermore, each participant recognizes that all other participants have equal, symmetrical rights to shape the discussion and determine the outcome (Benhabib, 1992). A lack of mutual respect among group members works to silence members that hold dissenting views (Fishkin, 1991; Gastil, 1993). It is as much the responsibility of an individual to voice their dissenting view, as it is other participants’ responsibility to create a social context in which they can. Without mutual respect, deliberation will cease to exist. Because of the significance of mutual respect, the ways in which it may be affected by loose time constraints and anonymity is very important to consider. Language, Reasoning, and Dialog Another objective of Burkhalter et al.’s (2002) interpersonal definition of deliberation is that is acknowledges, respects, and embraces differences among The Deliberative Potential of CMC 13 participants rather than privileges the prevailing mode of speaking and knowing. Significant differences in speaking and reasoning traditions are found in people with different cultural backgrounds (Philipsen, 1992; Warnick & Manusov, 1999; Whorf, 1956). Deliberators must not assume that the linear logic of Western society is the only reasoning form accepted within the venue (Burkhalter et al, 2002). To remedy this, deliberative groups must include some measure of dialogue (Burkhalter et al, 2002). Participants that possess a dialogic approach to conflict are open to changing their ways of speaking and thinking about an issue (Pearce & Littlejohn, 1997). Within conflict, this entails the suspension, although not total abandonment, of competing worldviews in the attempt to forge a shared way of speaking and reflecting upon an issue. Participants must engage in dialogue to understand other members who with they simply disagree or cannot understand. Dialogue, therefore, promotes fairness and inclusion by opening up conversation about alternative ways of speaking and knowing (Burkhalter et al., 2002). The way which loose time constraints and anonymity may affects dialogue must also be thoroughly considered. Considering Incoherence Incoherence is defined as both “a lack of cohesion, clarity or organization”, as well as “nonsense that is simply unintelligible”.1 However, how does one decide if something is nonsense, lacks clarity, or is unintelligible? These things are based largely upon perception. While research may conclude that CMC is unintelligible, or lacks clarity based upon a model that measures organization, cohesion or engagement, it is ultimately up to the participants to determine whether CMC is coherent. It is important to consider this because the consequences of incoherence are far different depending upon 1 http://www.allwords.com/word-incoherent.html The Deliberative Potential of CMC 14 who the communication is incoherent to, and what the goal of communication is. Furthermore, different styles of communication require different levels of coherence. For example, messaging systems designed for chat may require a low level of interactional coherence in comparison to messaging systems designed for structured processes, such as deliberation. Therefore, when considering coherence it is important to take into consideration the possibility that coherence may be as much a product of user desires as it is the properties of the medium. The primary point that I wish to make in this section is that text-based CMC is not inherently incoherent. Rather, there are factors which contribute to the overall coherence of CMC, such as the topic (Stromer-Galley, 2004), and user adaptations (Herring, 1999). However, since this paper is primarily concerned with a highly structured process, the most importance will be placed upon the role of messaging systems as the most significant factor which contributes to the coherence of CMC. Deeming CMC as incoherent carries significant consequences for both participants and practitioners of deliberation. Participants may be discouraged from entering discussions if they feel there is the strong potential that their contributions will be ignored or misunderstood and practitioners may stay away from a medium if it is perceived to be incoherent. Therefore, in hopes of dispelling any preconceived notions, I contend that incoherence is a product of messaging systems that lack structure and design rather than an inherent characteristic of CMC. Message Design When discussing the coherence of CMC, the fact that computer networks were originally intended for data transmission, not as a means for social interaction is cited The Deliberative Potential of CMC 15 often (Herring, 1999). It is understandable, many conclude, that computer messaging systems would turn out to be problematic as conversational environments. However, to assume that interactional incoherence is the inevitable result of CMC would be, as Herring (1999) notes, to commit “the worst abuses of technological determinism”. Researchers in computer-supported cooperative work have identified various limitations imposed on group interaction by the properties of the medium, ranging from high production, reception, and speaker change costs (Clark & Brennan, 1991), to “chaos” resulting from the greater openness of computer-mediated systems (McGrath, 1990). However, it is very important to distinguish what is meant by “medium” and “computermediated systems” because they are often referred to as synonymous. The former seems to refer to the medium of CMC itself, which is the computer or network, while the latter appears to more specifically refer to the programs through which communication is structured. Therefore, to claim that the limitations are a product of the properties of the medium, as opposed to the properties of the messaging systems is very different. To refer to the properties of the medium would mean that those properties are universal for all CMC and, thus, all CMC is thwarted by the same limitations. However, this is not the case. Due to the malleability of computer-mediated environments these limitations are not universal and, thus, do not necessitate incoherence. Computer-mediated communication is somewhat of a loaded term. It implies one singular form of communication, when in fact it embodies a variety of communicative activities. The one universal property of CMC, as in any form of text based communication, is a lack of the audio-visual cues which are present in face-to-face communication. However, the difference between text-based CMC, and say letter The Deliberative Potential of CMC 16 writing, is that similar to face-to-face communication, CMC can be structured in several different ways. For example, when you have a conversation through the mail there is no opportunity to change the way the interaction occurs. There is no environment in which the interaction takes place other than on the paper and through the words. In contrast, a computer-mediated interaction takes place in a malleable environment. This environment works as a channel providing users with different structures and tools to mediate interactions. Therefore, it is this mediation which is important to the coherence of CMC. Similar to the importance of audio-visual cues in mediating offline communication, the way in which the computer messaging systems mediate communication online is equally important. In the case of CMC, it is the Internet though which communication is taking place. However, forms of messaging systems on the Internet are quite different. If the computer messaging system does nothing to actually mediate communication, then it has no structure, and understandably would result in incoherence. On the other hand, if the computer messaging system is “rich” in tools of mediation (or structure), than the communication will be far more coherent. This can be seen in much of the research concerning the coherence of CMC: messaging systems matter. They are what structure the communication and, therefore, are responsible for structuring it in a way that is coherent. Herring’s (1999) study evaluating the coherence of computer-mediated interaction found that the limitations of the messaging systems result in a high degree of disrupted turn adjacency, overlapping exchanges, and topic decay. These results paint a picture of CMC as a highly incoherent form of communication. However, Herring (1999) goes on to suggest that messaging systems can be altered in such a way which increases coherence. Herring (1999) The Deliberative Potential of CMC 17 identifies three general desiderata for system design, many of which are now reality for some online messaging systems: logging/archiving capabilities, two way simultaneous feedback during message production, and tracking and linking of logically connected turns. My intention is not to discuss whether or not these implementations would be beneficial for deliberation in particular, but, rather to illustrate that coherence is not an innate quality of CMC. In other words, these are structural recommendations specifically aimed at improving conversational coherence and not deliberative coherence. While there may be overlap in the structural characteristics beneficial to both conversation and deliberation, the purpose of both is different and, therefore, the structural design is likely to reflect that. While some literature suggests that either asynchronous or synchronous CMC is more coherent (Stromer-Galley & Martinson, 2004), I would rather suggest that it is the way which communication is structured which contributes to whether it is coherent or not. In this sense, both synchronous and asynchronous CMC have the potential to be coherent forms of communication. I make this point because it is possible that for certain steps of deliberation, synchronous or asynchronous CMC may be more favorable. However, for the purpose of this paper, which is evaluating primarily asynchronous features of CMC, I will suggest that asynchronous communication has more to offer the actual step in the deliberative process in which participants are working toward a decision. Considering Anonymity One key feature of CMC which is not available to face-to-face (FTF) communication is the possibility of anonymity among participants. The word The Deliberative Potential of CMC 18 “anonymity” is derived from the Greek an numos, which means “without a name,” and has been defined as “nonidentifiability” (Rotenberg, 1993; Wallace, 1999, p. 23; as cited by Klein, Clark, & Herskovitz, 2003). One has anonymity, or is anonymous when others are unable to relate a given feature of the person to other characteristics (Wallace, 1999). For example, a participant in CMC would be anonymous if his/her comment or contribution to an online forum could not be associated with other traits such as name, address, race, gender, such that the person could be identified (Wallace, 1999). When considering the best environment for conducting deliberation, it is important to consider whether the identity of the participants should be disclosed or whether they should remain anonymous. In this section I examine the socialpsychological results of anonymity, and discuss what affects they might have on the interpersonal functions of deliberation. I will focus on two social-psychological consequences of anonymity, the absence of social status cues (such as gender, race, appearance, and age), and deindividuation to determine their affect on the concept of mutual respect, the equal consideration of a range of solution, evaluative criteria, and equal participation. Absence of Gender and Status Cues One important consequence of anonymity is the masking of social status cues such as gender, race, appearance and age. Unlike FTF communication where these cues unavoidably influence the group dynamic, in CMC it is possible to remove these factors and, thus, change the dynamic of communication and discussion. It is first important to understand the impact of personal characteristics, such as gender and status, on FTF The Deliberative Potential of CMC 19 communication and the affects they have on mutual respect, the consideration of a range of solutions, equal participation, information gathering, and evaluative criteria. Influence and the equal consideration of a range of ideas In FTF communication, perceived gender roles and social status play an important role in the ability of each participant to exert equal influence on the discussion. Expectation states theory (Berger, Fisek, Norman, & Zelditch, 1977) suggests that group members tend to evaluate other group members based on stereotypical performance expectations, which are influenced by external status characteristics (Klein et al., 2003). Deliberation requires that a wide range of solutions and suggestions are taken into account and evaluated equally (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Perceived expectations of social and gender roles undermine this requirement by creating a situation where some participants’ suggestions are favored over others. In the case of gender, people typically perceive men to have higher levels of competence than women, unless there is very clear evidence of female superiority (Carli, 2001). As a result, gender differences in social influence occur even when there are no objective differences in the behaviors or performance of male and female influence agents (Carli, 2001). Therefore, women typically have an extra burden of establishing their competence, whereas male competence is taken for granted. Although there is evidence of a general bias against female leaders by both men and women, this bias is particularly pronounced in men (Eagly, Makhajani & Klonsky, 1992; Forsyth, Heiney, & Wright, 1997). Because society regards men as having a higher status than women, the task contributions of men will be perceived as being worthier and more influential than The Deliberative Potential of CMC 20 the contributions of women, even when the male group members are, in fact, poorer performers (Klein et al., 2003). Men are often influential even when they do not adhere to traditional gender role norms (Carli & Eagly, 1999). This may be because being influential is, in itself, more congruent with the traditional male gender role than with the female gender role (Carli, 2001). These same prescriptive roles, which affect the influential impact of participants due to their gender, can also be expected to apply to other social status cues such as race, age, and appearance. Stereotypical expectations concerning the cognitive abilities of different race and age groups would likely hamper the ability of participants to evaluate all member contributions equally. The presence of gender and social cues may further the problem suggested by expectation states theory on an individual’s perception of their own role in the group. In discussion groups which focus on a topic that is specifically relevant to a certain race, gender, or age, group member’s opinion and position may alter based on the perception that a certain position is expected from them. This is especially likely in groups that consists of one male, one female, or one member of a certain race or age group. For example, if the topic of a discussion relates to race relations, minority members of the group may feel they must embody a certain position based on the feeling that they must represent the entire race, or the perception that others expect them to take this role. This adoption of a leadership position can be seen in contexts which favor female expertise or is in a traditional female domain. Women and girls exert greater influence in these contexts than when the context is gender neutral or masculine, because female expertise and authority is viewed as entirely legitimate in feminine domains (Carli, 2001). The Deliberative Potential of CMC 21 The removal of these status indicators through anonymous interaction may be beneficial to deliberation because it would level the amount of influence exerted by participants; influence which is based on prescriptive gender, race, and age roles. This would possibly make the equal consideration of a range of ideas more likely than in a FTF setting. Equal Participation The ability of groups to consider a wide range of possibilities also relies on the equal participation of all participants. “Equal participation has the potential to improve the quality of interaction and perhaps provide the opportunity for more critical discussion of decision alternatives” (Adkins, Shearer, Nunamaker, Romero, & Simcox, 1998, p. 518; as cited by Klein et al., 2003). Social status and gender cues affect the equality of participation among group members. Deliberation requires that each participant have the equal opportunity to speak (Gastil, 1993). While this does not mean that every participant is required to speak, they must understand that they have the opportunity and the responsibility to do so. The presence of mutual respect among participants helps to create a social context in which all participants feel comfortable expressing their views and participating. However, while mutual respect may exist among the group, it is, in a way, undermined by the presence of social status cues which place expectations on individuals to fulfill certain roles, thus either increasing or decreasing their influence and participation. Studies have reported that in FTF mixed-gender groups the rate of participation for women is lower than that of men, with women having a tendency toward stifling their ideas (Craig & Sherit, 1986) due, among other things, to evaluation apprehension The Deliberative Potential of CMC 22 (Meeker & Weitzel-O’Neill, 1977) and prescribed gender roles. Evaluative apprehension refers to the anxiety created by an individual’s concern about being judged or evaluated by others (Meeker & Weitzel-O’Neill, 1977). These concerns about what other people think can produce either facilitation or inhibition. If a participant perceives that their contributions will be devalued due to their social status they will likely be reluctant to express their ideas. Through the presence of social status cues, the likelihood of evaluation apprehension is far greater than in environments where participants are anonymous. While feelings of evaluative apprehension could persist in anonymous environments, they will more likely be due to the self-doubt or low self-esteem of the individual, rather than informed by social status cues. The generation of a range of ideas: The consideration of a wide range of ideas and solutions depends on both the equality of participation and the perception that all contributions are equally influential. While participants may feel respect for one another in FTF environments, they are unable to escape the stereotypical expectations associated with social status cues and gender. Therefore, it is possible that the simple presence of mutual respect is not enough to ensure equal participation and influence. This is where the possibility of anonymity may be quite beneficial in fulfilling these specific requirements of deliberation. Anonymous interaction via computer-mediated technologies provides an environment free of gender and social status cues, thereby ensuring that the contributions of each group member are evaluated only on merit and not on the contributor’s external characteristics (Herschel, 1994; Klein, 2000; Klein & Dologite, 2000). The Deliberative Potential of CMC 23 Anonymous CMC can help to eliminate the evaluative apprehension associated with social status and gender cues, thus, increasing the quantity and range of ideas presented in a discussion. Research has indicated that anonymous computer-mediated groups produce a greater number of ideas and higher quality of ideas than traditional FTF groups (Barki & Pinsonneault, 2001; Gallupe, Cooper, Grise, & Bastianutti, 1994; Gallupe, DeSanctis, & Dickson, 1988). Furthermore, in a study comparing anonymous CMC with non-anonymous CMC Jessup and Tansik (1991) found that “group members working anonymously are more likely to embellish ideas and question solutions, and will generate slightly more comments than those working under conditions of identifiability”. While anonymity has shown to produce more comments in CM groups, conclusions cannot be drawn about the creativity of these ideas (Klein, et al., 2003). However, if one accepts Osborn’s (1957) premise of “quantity breeds quality” in FTF groups, it may be suggested that a CM group which generates more ideas increases the likelihood of more creative ideas among them. Because deliberation requires that participants suggest a wide range of possible solutions, environments should be designed in ways which increases the generation of ideas. Information gathering and evaluative criteria The role of anonymity in the ability of participants to fulfill the interpersonal communicative requirements of deliberation may have a downside as well. While anonymity may prove beneficial, due to its elimination of social status and gender cues, thus, increasing participation, idea generation, and equaling the influence of participants; it may be detrimental to the deliberative requirements of information gathering and evaluative criteria. For a discussion to be deliberative, participants must provide all The Deliberative Potential of CMC 24 relevant information available upon which to base their deliberative claims. This includes, according to Burkhalter et al. (2002), personal experience and testimony. If the topic of discussion is the welfare system in the United States, and say a member of the group is a welfare beneficiary, his or her experience is a relevant form of information that is important to the information base of the group. The race or the gender of the participant then may become substantive information to understanding the perspective which the person holds. The allowance of bearing witness and personal testimony as a legitimate form of “evidence” is a crucial requirement of deliberation (Burkhalter et al., 2002). The importance of gender and other social status cues may again be significant when discussing evaluative criteria. Participants’ arguments sometimes directly appeal to the common good, but at times can appeal to a conception of the good that is shared by members of a subpublic (Benhabib, 1992). Deliberative groups must explicitly discuss and develop criteria upon which all possible solutions will be evaluated. Without discussion, people will assume common values, which has the effect of silencing potential differences (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Values are often linked directly to social status, gender, or age. Therefore, when explaining these values in a deliberative discussion, it may be necessary for participants to disclose such personal characteristics. This would, therefore, remove the anonymity of participants making them identifiable and open to the setbacks of FTF communication. The question now becomes, can participants retain the advantages of anonymity (lack of social status and gender cues) while at the same time engage in discussion about values and personal experience. Is there a way in which participants can share this The Deliberative Potential of CMC 25 information without having it linked to the possible message itself? The answer may lie in the innovation and creativity employed by computer messaging systems. One possibility is the absence of any user name or pseudonym for participants. If messages are unidentifiable, participant would, therefore, have no knowledge whatsoever of whom in the group is posting a comment. However, the repercussion of this total anonymity may result in the deindividuation of participants. Deindividuation A potential drawback of anonymity is the possible disappearance of social norms which manage normal FTF communication. In this section I will consider the consequences of deindividuation on social interaction, identity, and inhibition. If deindividuation is a result of anonymity, we must consider the significance of this and what affect it will have on deliberation. Reicher, Levin, and Gordijn (1998) trace the origins of deindividuation to the studies by LeBon (1895) on the effect of an individual submergence into crowd. LeBon (1895) believed that when submerged in a crowd, the collective mind takes possession of the individual. In effect, the individual loses selfcontrol and becomes a puppet, susceptible to control by the crowd’s leader, and capable of performing any act, however atrocious or heroic (LeBon, 1895). The more modern conception of deindividuation has expanded to include settings other than the crowd. Festinger, Pepitone, & Newcomb (1952) argued that deindividuation occurs in any situation when individuals in a group are not paid attention to as individuals. Being unaccountable in a crowd or group has the psychological consequence of reducing inner restraints, and increasing behavior that is usually inhibited (Festinger et al. 1952). In this state of diminished self-awareness, individuals act as if they were submerged or The Deliberative Potential of CMC 26 psychologically absorbed in a group, leading to a weakening of social norms, abandonment of inner restraints, and loss of evaluative apprehension (Diener, 1980; Festinger et al. 1952). The logic behind this is that when participants are no longer held accountable for their actions or comments, they will revert to an unrestrained psychological state. Jessup, Connolly, and Tansik (1990) proposed the theory of anonymous interaction that advanced the notion that anonymity in CMC undermines external social controls due to deindividuated behavior caused by a system which buffers group members from each other and detaches individuals from their contributions. A result of this dehumanization and loss of inhibition may result in the phenomenon of “flaming”. Although researchers have provided several explanations as to what constitutes a flame in online communication, the term generally requires hostile intentions characterized by words of profanity, obscenity, and insults that inflict harm to a person or an organization resulting from uninhibited behavior (Kiesler & Sproull, 1992; Reinig, Briggs & Nunamaker, 1998). However, studies specific to CMC have not always produced consistent results as to whether all anonymous interaction leads to deindividuation and flaming (Rowland, 2000). But even studies which have produced apparently conflicting results suggest that the effects of anonymity and anonymous communication depend on the particular tasks undertaken or other specific circumstances at the time (Rowland, 2000). If the task of a CM groups is deliberation, it is likely that participants would not be inclined to engage in flaming behavior being that it would undermine the purpose of the group. It is questionable as to whether deindividuation actually leads to disturbing The Deliberative Potential of CMC 27 behavior. Hiltz, Turoff, and Johnson (1989) interpret the effects of deindividuation in a different way. For them, deindividuated behavior leads individuals to conform to whatever the group’s norms, values, or opinions are (Hiltz et al. 1989). While there may be a loss of personal identity when an individual is submerged in a group setting, social identity may be accentuated (Lea and Spear, 1991; Spears, Oliver & Maes, 1990). Lea and Spears (1991) and Spears et al. (1990) distinguish the context in which activities take place and suggest that studies which cite flaming as a phenomenon of CMC underestimate the role of social contextual factors. For example, social settings such as chat rooms may accentuate the loss of social and personal identity resulting in flaming, while anonymous deliberative oriented groups with fixed membership may increase the loss of personal identity, while accentuating the feeling of social identity. If deindividuation encourages the feeling of group identity while de-emphasizing personal identity, participants may be more inclined to engage in communicative action (Habermas, 1984) rather than strategic or self-interested communication. The question is now, how can participants be held accountable for misconduct, and flaming practices if messages lack recongnisability, identifiability, and traceability? As with the question of incoherence, the design and configuration of online messaging systems can be fundamental for managing the effects of anonymity. The use of an online moderator is a common feature in most offline deliberative experiments. Moderators can serve the purposes of keeping discussion on track, verifying the accuracy of information, and more relevantly, observing the behavior of participants. Therefore, if messages are traceable only to the moderator and not the participants, the discussion can thus benefit from the advantages of the absence of gender and social status cues, while making sure The Deliberative Potential of CMC 28 that the deindividuation of participants does not lead to anti-social behavior, or irrelevant, hostile, obscene comments. The design in CM environments is important in retaining the benefits of anonymity while decreasing the likelihood of negative deindividuated behavior such as flaming. Considering Time As noted by Burkhalter et al. (2002), despite different orientations and emphases, many writers have identified the careful weighing of both the consequences of various options for action and the views of others as being at the core of deliberation (Barber, 1984; Fishkin, 1991; Gastil, 1993; Page, 1996; Mathews, 1994). While the desire to weigh carefully ultimately depends on the decision of the participants themselves, it is the responsibility of the practitioners to create an environment which promotes this core requirement of deliberation. When designing an environments to support online deliberation several decisions must be made, many of which revolve around time. There is insufficient empirical data to draw any conclusions concerning the affect of time on group discussion. As noted by Benbunan-Fitch, Hitlz, and Turoff (2002), the use of asynchronous technologies to support teamwork has not been studied to the extent of synchronous systems (Fjermestad & Hiltz, 1999). Asynchronous CMC represents a “unique mode of communication” (Benbunan-Fich et al., 2002), different not only from FTF communication, but even from synchronous CMC (Rice, 1987). Much of the work concerning online group interaction focuses on the use of group support systems (GSS). Group support systems, also known as groupware (Johansen, 1988), are interactive computer-based information systems that supports and structure group interaction to focus and enhance the communication, deliberations, and decision making of groups The Deliberative Potential of CMC 29 (Klein, 2000; Zigurs & Buckland, 1998). Group members are located at computer workstations which are connected to a common network. Geographical location and synchronicity is malleable resulting in four temporal/spatial combinations: sametime/same-place, same-time/different-place, different-time/same-place, and differenttime/different-place (Nunamaker, 1997). For example, participants can be in the same or different geographical location at individual computer workstations posting comments either synchronously or asynchronously. Furthermore, participants can either be anonymous or identifiable, and discussions can be focused around completing a task, making a decision, or simply brainstorming. Given this complexity of different combinations in these systems it is difficult to draw conclusive results from this body of work concerning the effects of time on the interpersonal requirements of deliberation. There are no studies to my knowledge which controls for the effects of time on decision making. To do this would be to determine that idea generation, or participation, are directly influenced by loose time constraints and not the result of anonymity (which has been found to increase the breadth of discussion and user participation), the presence of moderators, the complexity of the task, or simply the cognitive capabilities of the participants. Furthermore, if participants are anonymous, how anonymous are they? Do they have ambiguous user profiles, are their comments connected to these profiles, or do they lack profiles all together? As noted by BenbunanFitch et al. (2002), while previous studies have documented superior performance and perception outcomes (Benbunan-Fich & Hiltz, 1999; Ocker, Hiltz, Turoff, & Fjermestad, 1995) for asynchronous supported teams when compared to face-to-face groups, it is unclear why asynchronous groups produced better output. Given the lack of empirical The Deliberative Potential of CMC 30 evidence, I will instead discuss the possible outcomes of asynchronous CMC on the interpersonal communicative requirements of deliberation. Where possible I will present evidence which may suggest the effects of asynchronous communication on the interpersonal requirements of deliberation. I will begin by considering the possible effects of loose time constraints on information gathering, participation, the equal consideration of a wide range of solutions, and dialogic differences. I will then consider the effect of asynchroncity on group coordination and messaging systems. I will conclude by considering possible design implementations which may increase process gains and reduce process losses. Information Gathering Deliberation requires that participants have access to all relevant information needed to discuss a topic (Burkhalter et al., 2002). This is important for both the accuracy of comments as well as the breadth of discussion. According to Gastil (1993), participants have a moral right to receive necessary and available information, and those who have access to such information have a responsibility to provide it. The Internet is one such resource which can provide participants access to an unlimited quantity of information. However, even if deliberation is occurring in an online setting and participants have access to online resources, time constraints hinder their ability to effectively gather information. In offline deliberative projects such as the National Issues Forum, group organizers, or moderators provide participants with materials that pertain to the chosen issue of discussion. These materials consist of issue booklets produced by a joint venture between Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation. The issue books are generally divided into five or six sections. The introduction provides an overview of the The Deliberative Potential of CMC 31 issue. Then, three or four sections illustrate the basic policy options, choices, or points of view that might be adopted in making decisions. Finally, a conclusion summarizes the choices arrayed in the previous sections, suggesting the various trade-offs associated with each. These packets are to be read by participants prior to discussion. While it is important for organizers to gather and provide participants with information about an issue, it is impossible to know before hand all information that will be deemed relevant or necessary to a discussion (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Therefore, to the extent that participants identify information as being necessary, they should have access to it. The ability of participants to do this requires that they have sufficient time to do so. Even if participants have unlimited access to information, it takes time to gather and make sense of. In asynchronous CMC, participants are not restrained by time and thus are able to access all information that they deem necessary to the discussion. Not only would loose time constraints allow groups to strengthen their information base, it would also make easier the verification of claims improving the overall validity of the discussion. Deliberation not only requires all relevant information it also require accurate information (Burkhalter et al., 2002; Gouran & Hirokawa, 1996). It is possible that loose time constraints would reduce the number of inaccurate claims due to the ability of participants to meticulously cite sources, as well as verify the validity of other participant’s claims. While asynchronous CMC may not make groups engage in this practice of fact-checking, it does make it a possibility. Because accurate information gathering and access to all relevant information is required of deliberative discussion, an environment that makes this possible is necessary. Range of solutions The Deliberative Potential of CMC 32 I previously discussed how anonymity may increase the range of solutions primarily by reducing evaluative apprehension and equalizing participation. However, how is the range of solutions in a discussion group affected by loose time constraints? Cognitively, we can assume that participants would be able to consider a larger range of solutions in a period of a week rather than 2 hours. An asynchronous environment allows participants to reflect more about their own contributions and to have broader discussions than groups working in an FTF or synchronous computer-mediated environments (Hiltz, 1994). Because deliberation requires that participants must strive to consider views across the political spectrum, especially those not held by its own membership (Burkhalter et al., 2002), it is important that the structure of the discussion allows participants to do so. The value of increased time for reflection may also be beneficial to the quality of comments given by participants. During interpersonal interaction it is without a doubt that our emotions play a role in how we behave and react toward other people. Social contagion theory (Levy & Nail, 1993) demonstrates people’s tendency to unintentionally and automatically “catch” other people’s emotions through their facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, or movements (Friedman & Riggio, 1981; Hess & Blairy, 2001). Interestingly, research also suggests that individuals engaged in synchronous CMC unconsciously imitate not only the linguistic structure of each others messages, but also the social emotional connotations of the messages (Thompson & Nadler, 2002). The conveyance of emotion allows participants to exert force and influence over a discussion as well as gain empathy and understanding from participants. It is unclear whether the presence of emotion in a deliberative group has a positive or negative affect on the The Deliberative Potential of CMC 33 discussion as a whole. It has been argued that emotions have a number of important social functions and consequences (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994; Keltner & Haidt, 1999; Oatley & Jenkins, 1992). Emotions have the ability to convey valuable information concerning the salience of an issue. Emotions signal what value one attaches to a different issue and provide critical feedback about one’s mood and willingness to agree. However, one of the reasons emotional expressiveness is often deemed informative is that people typically assume that emotions are spontaneous and tell the real story (Planalp, 1999). However, because people have the ability to prevent emotional reactions, manage expression, and strategically adapt emotional messages (Planalp, 1999) the value of emotions and their sincerity could be called into question. Undeniably, emotions are likely to be a component of any discussion and, thus, a deliberative environment must be structured in a way that attempts to maximize the benefits of emotional conveyance while at the same time minimize the drawbacks. The strategic use of emotions to coerce, or mislead fellow participants is ultimately determined by the ethical convictions of the participants themselves. Genuine emotion, however, is less of a choice made by participants, and often times more of a reaction. While these emotions are important to the information base of a group, when they begin to dominate the discussion it becomes problematic. While emotions should not be absent from deliberation, participants must strive to engage in a rational, reason-based interaction. Asynchronous discussions with loose time constraints may have a “cooling” effect on emotionally-driven responses. Unlike moods, emotions are of relatively high intensity and short duration (Barry, 1999; Forgas, 1992; Oatley & Jenkins, 1996). It is likely that participants who are given more time to reflect will be less likely to respond in The Deliberative Potential of CMC 34 a way which is driven solely by emotion. For example, if a participant posts a comment that is somewhat offensive but provides reason for their claim, another participant in a synchronous or FTF environment may be inclined to focus more on the offensive part of the comment rather than the logic, or explanation behind it. This “off-the-cuff” response may result in a comment that is driven by emotion rather than logic or understanding. Loose time constraints may provide a protection against this brand of response, resulting in more thoughtful, reason-based discussions. While it is not certain that participants will choose to act in a more thoughtful, reflective fashion, deliberation requires an environment that allows them to do so. Equality of Participation and Dialogic Differences Each participant in a deliberative group should have adequate opportunities to speak (Gastil, 1993). While it is not required that every participant speak, is it essential that they have the opportunity to do so. This means that those who require more time to speak should be granted it, insofar as it does not intrude on another’s right to speak. If time is a factor, such as in a FTF or synchronous computer-mediated groups, it is the responsibility of the participants to create an environment in which each participant has an equal opportunity to speak (Burkhalter et al., 2002). This often results in a principle of equal speaking time to determine the length of each speaker’s turn (Burkhalter et al., 2002). However, some individuals think differently, or possess more “relevant” information and, thus, require more time than other participants. Therefore, in FTF and synchronous environments, time is a constraining factor that does not align with the requirements of deliberative discussion. The Deliberative Potential of CMC 35 Asynchronous CMC with loose time constraints might pose two possible benefits for group participation. First, it may decrease the likelihood of participants being dissatisfied with a discussion due to insufficient opportunities to participate. It is difficult for a participant to argue that they did not have the opportunity to participate if a discussion takes place over several weeks. Second, loose time constraints may better accommodate those with different ways of speaking and reasoning. Deliberative discussions need to accommodate significant differences in speaking and reasoning traditions because they often include people with diverse cultural backgrounds (Philipsen, 1992; Warnick & Manusov, 1999; Whorf, 1956). It is important to recognize that there are as many different forms of “reason” as there are cultural perspectives and ways of speaking (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Furthermore, some people are simply better at thinking on their feet, while others require more time before they feel prepared to contribute to a discussion. An ideal deliberative environment must acknowledge and respect these differences, rather than privilege the prevailing, rationalistic mode of speaking and knowing (Burkhalter et al. 2002). An environment with loose time constraints might begin to help accommodate these differences in speaking, and rationalizing by allowing all participants the time they need to sort out their differences and gather their thoughts. In a comparison of asynchronous computer-mediated groups with FTF groups, Benbunan-Fich et al. (2002) found that asynchronous groups working under loose time constraints focused far more on discrepancy reduction (the solution of their disagreements). While groups may continue to disagree on the validity of certain forms of reasoning, it is important that all reasoning styles are understood and considered; only The Deliberative Potential of CMC 36 then is it valid for the group to pass judgment on the validity of the claim. In synchronous environments the explanation and consideration of differences is less likely to take place due to time constraints. Rather than privileging the most seasoned speaker, quickest typist, or dominant form of logic, asynchronous environments might work to provide an environment where a diversity of views are heard, and where differences can be discussed. Coordination and Coherence Despite several possible advantages of conducting deliberation in an asynchronous environment, possible problems with coordination and coherence may arise. Benbunan-Fich et al. (2002) found that despite asynchronous groups mentioning more issues and having broader discussions than their FTF counterparts, FTF groups reported significantly better perceptions of discussion quality than asynchronous groups (Benbunan-Fich et al., 2002). They attributed this discrepancy to greater coordination challenges facing groups working in asynchronous environments than for groups working through a synchronous decision support system or FTF without computer support (Benbunan-Fich et al., 2002). However, it must be noted that the perception that asynchronous discussions were of less quality than FTF discussions may also be attributed to a natural bias people have in favor of FTF meetings (Benbunan-Fich et al., 2002). Nevertheless, as a result of coordination challenges, asynchronous groups were far more actively involved in the coordination of the discussion and adopted loosely coupled coordination approaches, while FTF groups adopted tightly coupled approaches (Benbunan-Fich et al., 2002). The approach of asynchronous groups led to problems with missing members that did not participate or meet coordination deadlines. While this The Deliberative Potential of CMC 37 evidence may not apply to groups where deliberation is the central purpose, given that the groups in the study were task oriented and structured differently, they do pose potential problems which must be addressed when designing the structure of online asynchronous forums for deliberation. Another potential drawback of asynchronous CMC, which is connected to coordination challenges, is a possible increase in discussion incoherence. In asynchronous CMC there is often considerable time lag between when a message is sent and when it is responded to. This leads to message overlap, sequential incoherence, and messages which contain multiple “moves” (Herring, 1999). While this message “lag” takes place in synchronous CMC as well, it is more pronounced in asynchronous settings due to looser time constraints. Controlling Coordination and Coherence To a greater degree than FTF interaction or synchronous CMC, asynchronous deliberation demands structure for successful collaboration (Macoubrie, 2003). The coordination of participants in an asynchronous deliberative environment requires a wellthought-out group process design. Groups, once in trouble, have a difficult time recovering (Friedman, 1989). Structured processes designed prior to discussion help to anticipate problems and forestall trouble (Macoubrie, 2003). Structuring group processes effectively involves the identification of key process variables, specifically the hoped-for aspects of discussion (vibrant participation and idea generation, etc), and building those functional tasks into the group process design (Macoubrie, 2003). Users are more likely to participate in systems that facilitate rather than hinder interaction management The Deliberative Potential of CMC 38 (Herring, 1999). Therefore, the satisfaction of participants and the overall success of coordinating deliberation online are dependent on the structure of the group process. As discussed in a previous section, problems of coherence are due to a lack of audio visual cues and are likely to be corrected by messaging systems that are rich in tools of mediation. However, user adaptations to the medium also significantly decrease the problems of incoherence which result from asynchronous CMC (Herring, 1999). Users innovate alternative methods of signaling listenership and negotiating turn alteration in an attempt to offset tracking and coordination problems caused by loose time constraints (Herring, 1999). For example, it is widely considered a breach of ‘netiquette’ to send messages that contain no significant original content (Herring, 1994; McLaughlin, Osborne & Smith, 1995). Users use copy-and-paste methods to insert responses to various parts of a previous message. This is especially useful in asynchronous groups where comments tend to contain two or more moves (Baym, 1996; Black, Levin, Mehan & Quinn, 1983; Condon & Cech, Forthcoming). This innovation signals both listenership as well as cross-turn reference (Herring, 1999). This ability to quote and respond to all parts of a previous comment not only increases coherence but could also prove a significant tool in improving the deliberative quality of a discussion. During deliberation participants must be committed to understanding and taking into consideration the views of others. This user adaptation may prevent egocentric behavior where participants seem to be engaged in a sincere exchange of ideas; when in fact the ideas being exchanged are exclusive from one another. If one reads a comment and responds with one’s own opinion, with no reference to previous comments, little consideration has taken place. In asynchronous CMC The Deliberative Potential of CMC 39 participants could be expected to respond to all parts of a previous comment signaling full consideration of all parts of a message. Therefore, problems which may arise from asynchronous deliberation with loose time constraints may possibly be controlled by innovation on the part of practitioners as well as participants. Conclusion The main assumption driving this paper is that deliberation is a structured process with very specific communicative and interpersonal requirements. Previous studies reduce deliberation to a variable that is assumed to be present during any public discussion, issue forum, or town meeting that has a format permitting structural interaction among participants (Denver, Hands, & Jones, 1995; Fishkin & Luskin, 1999; Gastil & Dillard, 1999b; McLeod et al., 1999). When deliberation is reduced to a variable less attention is paid to the conceptual precision and theoretical grounding of deliberation. This theoretical ambiguity can lead to incommensurate works on what theorists presume to be the same subject (Burkhalter et al., 2002). Furthermore, the lack of an explicit and detailed definition of what deliberation is, or what makes a discussion deliberative, leads to the construction of online (and offline) environments which may not actually be conducive to conducting deliberation. This paper employs a definition of deliberation as a form of communication which requires very specific interpersonal and communicative elements. Working from this perspective of deliberation, environments can then be structured in a way to promote these interpersonal and communicative elements. Furthermore, forms of communication, such as face-to-face, entail their own norms of interaction and structure which may not coincide with the interpersonal and communicative requirements of deliberation. New information technologies, such as The Deliberative Potential of CMC 40 computer-mediated communication provide a possible alternative form of communication in which interaction can be structured in a variety of ways. In light of this alternative, the question which must be asked is to whether face-to-face communication is actually ideal for the promotion of these deliberative elements. In this I have analyzed whether basic features of face-to-face communication such as identifiability and synchronicity are theoretically conducive to promoting the interpersonal and communicative elements which make a discussion deliberative. I have argued that incoherence is likely the result of messaging systems which lack the tools of mediation needed to structure coherent communicative interaction. Computer-mediated communication is not, therefore, inherently incoherent; rather messaging systems can be designed in a way which promotes coherent conversation. Having considered the possible effects of anonymity and loose time constraints on the interpersonal and communicative requirements of deliberation, I argue that online environments which lack social status cues and time constraints may actually help to promote the interpersonal and communicative elements which make a discussion deliberative. More specifically, these features may help to promote the equal influence of participants, the consideration of a wide range of ideas, idea generation, equality of participation, the discussion of evaluative criteria, information gathering, and mutual respect. Furthermore, possible setbacks of both anonymity and loose time constraints may relate primarily to information gathering and deindividuation, as well as coordination and coherence. However, the design and configuration of online messaging systems as well as the presence of moderators, and a stringent process design may be fundamental for managing these possible difficulties. The Deliberative Potential of CMC 41 Limitations and possible future research There are several possible limitations to this paper. The first is the omission of heterogeneity as a requirement of deliberative discussion. Theoretically, for a discussion to be deliberative it must also be among a heterogeneous sample of the population (Witschge, 2002). The main reason why I have not addressed this feature of deliberation is because I believe that the environment in which deliberation takes place may undermine the true value of heterogeneity, which is to increase the information base of the group through a diversity of views. As suggested in this paper, an environment which contains gender and social status cues, as well as time constraints may actually work to silence certain individuals, therefore, limiting the diversity of views despite heterogeneity. However, additional research into the ideal environment for conducting deliberation must contain further consideration of heterogeneity. The second limitation to this paper concerns the lack of empirical evidence concerning the effects of time and anonymity in deliberative groups. There are no extant studies to my knowledge which control for the effects of time or anonymity in a group with the purpose of deliberative discussion. Doing so would help determine whether the fulfillment of a specific deliberative requirement is the result of either anonymity, loose time constraints, or other exogenous factors. Furthermore, if participants are anonymous, how anonymous are they? Do they have ambiguous user profiles, are their comments connected to these profiles, or do they lack profiles all together? While this paper is purposely theoretical, future research must address these questions if they wish to derive empirical evidence concerning the effects which environmental and structural factors have on deliberative discussion. The Deliberative Potential of CMC 42 The Deliberative Potential of CMC 43 References Adkins, M., Shearer, R., Nunamaker, J.F. Jr., Romero, J., & Simcox, F. (1998). Experiences using group support systems to improve strategic planning in the Air Force. Proceedings of the Thirty-First Hawaii International Conference of System Science, 1, 515-524. Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. 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