OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Rumor Control Teams

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In any conflict situation, there are likely to be hundreds if not thousands of parties who are constantly talking with one another about the conflict. Often, the information which is being spread through these informal interactions contains serious inaccuracies which are likely to make the conflict more destructive than necessary. Such communications, which we call rumors, can also be spread through the mass media--television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet.

The key to effective rumor control efforts is an ability to perform three functions. First, some mechanism is needed for determining what rumors are actually circulating.  Second, an effective strategy is needed for determining which rumors are true, and which are false. Finally, mechanisms are needed for correcting inaccurate rumors and replacing them with reliable information.

The first step, rumor identification, requires the support of people in each constituency group who are in a position to hear the latest rumors as they are circulating. In general, these are people who are very active in the conflict and interested in developing more constructive approaches. It is often helpful to provide these "rumor reporters" with training so that they understand how misinformation can drive the cycle destructive escalation. It is also important that these individuals to be widely trusted by members of their constituency group.

The next phase of the rumor control process requires a workable mechanism determining the truthfulness of rumors. Here it is very helpful if the "rumor reporters" can also serve as "rumor investigators" and help determine, from their group's perspective, the accuracy of rumors pertaining to their group. While there will certainly be cases were the practices of secrecy and deception make  reliable rumor checking impossible, there will also be many cases in which incorrect rumors can be at least partially corrected.

This rumor investigation mechanism can be structured in a variety of ways--as long as it provides information which is widely regarded as trustworthy and reliable. "Rumor reporters" might be organized into a committee which meets periodically to exchange information about current rumors and then organize efforts to determine their accuracy. These committees should also involve people with access to the information needed to conduct effective investigations. Here the many the techniques associated with fact-finding efforts are likely to be helpful. 

Another way of structuring such a program involves widely trusted neutral intermediaries who systematically contact key parties involved in a conflict to identify and investigate the latest rumors. When these intermediaries hear a story which they think is likely to be untrue, they initiate an investigation to try to determine whether or not the story is accurate. Also needed is a plan for handling inconclusive investigations. This means of the investigators have to clearly acknowledge cases in which they are unable to determine the reliability of rumor.

The third and final phase of rumor control efforts is rumor correction. Here the investigators need some reliable mechanism for promptly reporting their findings to interested parties. In cases were there is no agreement on what has happened, they should report what is known, what is not known, and what is still being investigated. They should also report differing interpretations of available facts.

When an investigation determines that the rumor is not true, then a plan for correcting the error  must be initiated. The success of this plan depends upon the credibility of the intermediaries and their ability to communicate widely, effectively, and quickly.

Perhaps the best developed example of rumor control mechanisms is the crisis control centers developed during the heart of the Cold War to prevent incomplete information about the actions of opposing military forces from escalating into a violent and dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

At the local level, the United States Community Relations Service (an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice) empowered to intervene in racial conflicts) has utilized rumor control teams within communities in an effort to stop rumors that harm intergroup relations.

Links to Related Approaches

Stereotype-Breaking Actions

Communication Accuracy

Communication Pre-Tests

Links to Related Problems

Inadequate Information Gathering/Time Constraints

Misinterpretation of Communication
Failure to Understand an Opponent's Perspective

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu