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Extended Contact and the Broader Impact of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

“It’s really easy to hate someone you don’t know..but when you know them, it’s hard.  And when you care about them and love them, it’s impossible.”

The above is a quote from the executive director of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization that brings together Muslim and Jewish women in friendship, with an eye toward affecting broader attitudes toward members of different faiths.  Below is a video that summarizes their work, as well as their theory of change.

I have always been struck by how many groups independently come to the realization that the path to bridging divisions lies in building personal relationships first.  In a similar vein to The Village Square, Living Room Conversations, Better Angels, and numerous other groups, The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom intentionally puts friendship at the core of what they do.  While there is ample research support for the idea that better relationships among individuals lead to better inter-group attitudes, it is certainly important to verify that these research studies extend to real world settings.  As part of our ongoing work in bridging the academic and practitioner divide, we were able to survey 285 members of the Sisterhood to get some evidence as to how research on contact and extended contact effects maps to the real world.

Our findings indicate that members do indeed report better inter-group attitudes.  As you can see below, most surveyed members self-report that they feel more comfort with others and more dedication to speaking out against divisive rhetoric.

Members report better inter-group attitudes since joining

Members report better inter-group attitudes since joining

 

The people who take the survey are a self-selected sample of the membership, so it’s possible that this group is more positive about their experience with the Sisterhood.  Another way of looking at whether change is occurring is to examine whether attending more meetings is associated with positive attitudes toward each group.  The median number of meetings attended by survey participants was 5, so we examined those who attended 4 or fewer meetings in comparison with those who have attended 6 or more meetings.  As you can see in the below graph, people who have attended more meetings report having more in common with members of each faith, as well as more improvement in their comfort with others and greater commitment to speaking out against divisive rhetoric.

Members who attend more meetings have better inter-group attitudes.

Members who attend more meetings have better inter-group attitudes.

Yet another way of looking at the effect of the Sisterhood is to see whether the differences that people perceive in terms of how much they have in common with Jewish or Muslim women shrinks.  It is natural for a Jewish woman to believe they have more in common with other Jewish women, as compared to Muslim women, even as one may feel a lot in common with both groups.  The same pattern is likely for Muslim women.  Yet, as people get to know each other, one would expect this perceived difference to shrink, and the data indicates that it does.  Specifically, people who attend more meetings show a smaller difference between their perceptions of how much they have in common between groups.

sisterhood_salaam_shalom3

Of course, the people who choose to attend these events are likely not the ones who have extreme attitudes about the other group, so one might question if the Sisterhood is reaching those who most need to be reached.  However, research does indicate that those who hear about others making friends across groups also have their attitudes affected (e.g. this work on extended contact effects).  While we were not able to survey those who have heard about this work as of yet, we did ask members how much they told others about their experiences.  95% of people had told at least one person and 90% said that they “often” tell others, with 95% being proud to do so.  On average, members tell 20 other people, with the median number being 10 and some people telling hundreds of others.

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As a followup, we are currently doing work examining the experimental effects of hearing about the experiences of members and preliminary evidence indicates that people who read about these kinds of programs experience significantly better inter-group attitudes as well.  We plan to follow up with a post on that soon.  That being said, it is clear to us that the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is not only doing valuable work with a theory of change that is well supported by existing social science work, but also that there is substantial evidence that the Sisterhood is making a measurable impact on both their members and the communities that those members are a part of.

- Ravi Iyer

ps. If anyone reading this is or knows a Jewish or Muslim woman who would like to join a group or form a chapter, please do get in touch with the Sisterhood directly at https://sosspeace.org/.

 

 

 

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Welcoming Conservatives

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

We’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front of late as we’ve been working more with numerous partners across the country who are bringing people together.  Below is a partial list of organizations:

Living Room Conversations
Better Angels
The Village Square
Heterodox Academy
Ben Franklin Circles
Sisters of Salaam Shalom
One America
Peace First
The People’s Supper
Welcoming America

Across these groups, there is a common (though not universal) problem, where bridging the ideological divide is something that attracts liberals, moreso than conservatives.  While a general message of “why can’t we all get along” is bound to attract liberals, there are ways to moralize bridging the divide to conservatives (e.g. appealing to their patriotism or to an opportunity for better, more efficient government).  Liz Joyner, of the Village Square, wrote this article about it recently, that makes the following recommendations.

  • Start with a bipartisan relationship.
  • Build an expanding bipartisan network incrementally.
  • Keep a conservative bench.
  • Consider partnering with an ideologically diverse church congregation or a politically diverse group of churches.
  • If you’re liberal, don’t use your mother tongue.
  • Speak to hearts, not heads
  • Understand liberal and conservative “moral channels.”
  • Believe in your soul that without deeply engaged conservatives, your effort will lack critical insights required to solve problems 
  • Empathize with conservatives through a key insight that’s commonly absent in liberal circles.
  • Take a continuous meter reading on whether the environment you’ve created welcomes conservatives.
  • Scale up using a distributed leadership “cell” model.
  • Recognize the hazard of lopsided groups.
  • Respect that conservatives are going to be less thrilled with your forum or initiative for reasons that are truly legitimate

Challenges notwithstanding, the rewards you’ll get for your efforts to welcome conservatives are both essential to your success and will be transformational for you. They have been for us – the liberals among us will never go back to a room full of people just like us. It’s boring and lacks insights we’ve grown accustomed to hearing.

We’d encourage all our readers to check out the full article here.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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The Science Behind Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” Ad

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

Clearly some members of Heineken’s ad agency have been reading the social science literature as evidenced by this recent ad (video below), which has been all over my social feed, as well as having been written about in Vox, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, The Today Show, The Guardian, and many other places.  The ad has 3 sets of partisans who disagree on the hot button issues of climate change, feminism, and perceptions of those who are trans-gender do 2 things that conform to our 2 main recommendations - they cooperate in building a bar and they build a relationship by asking and revealing personal things about themselves.  These exercises mirror well-established research paradigms from research on minimal groups, realistic conflict theory, contact effects, and the fast friends procedure, but I think the ad works because these paradigms build on what most of us already know – that if we get to know people personally first, politics are secondary to the relationship we have built, and that revealing things about ourselves and working together are great ways to build such a relationship.

Please do watch the below video and share with your friends.

- Ravi Iyer

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The Plight of Refugees Brings People Together

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

Without wading into the wisdom of current immigration policy, I wanted to point out a relatively obvious pattern of group dynamics that we see everyday, yet somehow often fail to appreciate – our ability to band together in the face of adversity.  It’s one of the prime ways that humans have evolved to take over the planet in cooperating groups of millions.  When we see a need in our community, we work together with efficiency that no other species can match.

If you read the news, you may feel like the world is falling apart.  Yet, for every story about partisans bashing each other, I also see a lot of love in the world.  This story in the New York Times, where a local synagogue took the lead in hosting a group of Syrian refugees was the kind of news that wouldn’t be news, except for the recent immigration ban.  It’s the kind of everyday kindness that happens all the time – but that never gets near the attention as the extremely rare terrorist attack.

From the article:

Some of the volunteers were children or grandchildren of refugees. Their synagogue, Am Shalom (“People of Peace”) in Glencoe, Ill., displays a statue depicting members’ families who perished at the Nazis’ hands. The Syrian family, and the president’s orders, were coming on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, some of the volunteers noted with tears in their eyes. A hundred synagogue members had contributed in some way to helping resettle the Syrians: renting an apartment steps from a playground, assembling a vacuum cleaner, lining up juice boxes in the refrigerator.  Some of the synagogue members had signed on instinctually, so the Syrians would be helped the way their own parents or grandparents had been aided when they arrived in the United States.

Many people are showing solidarity with refugees by going to airports and holding signs of welcome and peace.  The ACLU has raised millions from those who want to protect refugees.  Just over a week ago, millions marched in support of women, many with positively framed signs like the below.

kindness imwithher

 

Yes, there remains a lot of division in this country.  But there is also a lot of love.  And while the forces of division get a lot of attention, let’s not forget to pay attention to the millions and millions who demonstrate this love every day, and whose conviction has never been more on display.  Hating the haters only plays into the hands of extremists who thrive on division.  But seeing countless stories of immigrants who risk their lives for our troops, research tuberculosis, and flee attacks on their home to start small businesses can’t help but spur people to positive action.

People learn much better from stories than from statistics and for the longest time, we heard statistics about how we were more likely to be killed by a swimming pool than a terrorist attack by an immigrant, but still saw stories of immigrant terrorists and criminals.  Now we are finally seeing stories of everyday immigrants who want a better life for their children and predictably, people are coming together to help them.  There are a lot of good people in the world.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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Many People are Reaching Out Across the Partisan Divide After Trump’s Election

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

While the media has been focused mainly on partisan fighting, Donald Trump’s election has prompted a lot of people to reach out across the aisle to understand those they disagreed with in the last election.  It may not go reported in the press, but Obama wants Trump to succeed and Democratic House minority leader Pelosi, among others, has been praying for Trump’s success as well.  Prominent journalists have been seeking to cross the divide as well,  as have organizations we work with, but in this post, I’d like to highlight the many many Americans who have sought to meet people across the aisle.  At Civil Politics, we’ve talked with a lot of people seeking to have these conversations and seeking advice and direction.  Our main recommendations – focus on relationships and areas of agreement – remain true, but just as we advocate persuading people through intuitive, emotional appeals, sometimes understanding our recommendations is best done by hearing and empathizing with other people’s experiences.

Josh Quinn, the owner of Tiger Tree, a boutique store in the town where I was raised – Columbus, Ohio – is one of the many people I’ve talked to lately about convening such a group, and he volunteered to write a bit about his experience, in the hopes that others may be similarly inspired and learn from his experience.  Below is his story, along with some answers to followup questions we asked from Civil Politics’ perspective.

After consuming literally years of laser focused biased media leading up to this election, I felt like I needed a break to try and find some sense of truth and balance in our democracy.  I wanted to at least give myself an honest opportunity to seriously consider positions other than my own; not for the sole purpose of finding their weaknesses, so that I am armed for my rebuttal, but also finding their strengths so that I am better equipped to find common ground and compromise.

After expressing my desire to form a non-debate club, a friend turned me onto the work of Jonathan Haidt which lead to Righteous Mind and then Asteroids Club which seemed like exactly what I was starting but without all of the bother of having to actually go and start it.  We recently held our first meeting and it was more successful than I could have hoped.  I will detail what did and did not work for our group and what we plan to do in the future in the hopes that it will inspire others to follow suit.

Moderation

I served as the liberal moderator and a new friend of mine served as the conservative moderator.  I think moderators who can be balanced are a critical link to this working.  You need to establish trust in your audience that they are not walking into some sort of biased trap but a safe space to freely discuss and absorb different philosophies.  We didn’t actually do much, other than nudge the conversation and hit the reset button twice when things started to heat up.  But I think it sends a strong signal to everyone that there are two figures balancing the scales of the conversation and keeping it even.  We did begin by having everyone in the circle state their name, occupation and political affiliation.  There was some hesitation from folks I told about this but I think it worked great and really helped to strengthen the bridges between us rather than put up barriers.

Our Rules

We had only two rules, no rebuttals and no phones.  This is a listening exercise that involves some occasional talking, not an argument.  I became interested in this idea as a way to better understand people as a means to foster empathy.  It has gotten so easy to only listen to ideas we already know we agree with that (I believe) that the distance between our accepted beliefs and opposing beliefs has turned into an often impassable chasm.  I may never agree with your position on gun control or climate change or any number of issues but I can possibly empathize with your reasoning for holding a different position.  Thus no rebuttals.  Participants may ask clarifying questions to help better understand why someone holds a position but they may not offer an attack meant to knock an opponent off base.  In turn they may be able to give their reasoning for holding a different position.  It is a nuanced distinction but if the group is there for the right reason and the moderators keep things under control it works great.

The phone rule was to address how easy it is to google a confirmation of basically any idea that pops into one’s head at this point. In a way I think our critical thinking has become diminished because we have this external biased brain in our pocket to do it for us. Removing phones focuses the conversation to be more authentically of the participants rather than their crowds and I think create some cohesion with the group that would not have existed if a line was still tethering them to their tribes.

The Mix

We ended up with an almost exactly even split politically but, by no design, their makeup was not at all what I would have expected.  We had four (not related) liberals from an upper middle class suburb, a conservative that works for a workforce development non profit, a conservative who teaches alternative medicine at a local college, some software folks, a Turkish immigrant businessman, lifelong registered Republicans who campaigned for Hillary or voted third party, and die hard Trump supporters.

We had 12 participants which felt pretty perfect to me. I think our extreme (economic, religious and occupational) diversity probably helped people from feeling they had a base to stick to.  More than 12 would have lead to people forming teams and putting up barriers.  We also sat in a circle completely mixed together.  That helped prevent the sort of overheard hushed side comments that can make the tide turn less respectful.

What We Will Do Differently

I am thrilled that all of our participants want to give this another go.  We have even maintained an ongoing conversation on the original event page complete with book and documentary recommendations.  The only real difference for our next meeting is that we are sticking to one subject.  Last time we meandered through a host of topics, which I think was okay for the initial meeting and kept from scaring off participants that maybe did not feel informed or passionate to show up to a more focused discussion.  I would actually recommend that anyone planning a similar discussion pick at least a few topics for the first meeting to let people feel out the concept and drill down from there.  People will learn that it’s okay just to show up to listen.  It’ not a team sport.  There isn’t a winner.  You don’t need your teammates also participating.

As of now the plan is to meet once a month with the original group or close to it.  We’ll likely allow some folks to filter in and out as long as we maintain a balance and stay around 12 participants.  I have gotten a lot of positive feedback through Facebook and people stopping into my shop to talk to me about it so I am hoping to help a few other groups get rolling in Columbus as well and do whatever I can to grow this idea.

Civil Politics asked: How did you start?  Was there any structure to it?
If you mean how we started our actually meeting it was by going around the room and introducing who we were and our political affiliation.  If you mean the group itself it was a pretty handpicked group of people within my network I thought could handle a civil conversation with people of different political affiliations.  I was thrilled to meet my right of center moderator and even when we have disagreed on topics it has never felt divisive.  It feels like two friends with a different take on a complex issue which is how I think politics should and can be.  The bitterness to which we have become accustomed has been manufactured and can be easily dismantled.
Civil Politics asked: Do you feel like you changed your opinions about any issues?  Did others?
I am not sure I feel like I changed my mind on any specific issues the initial meeting.  At least our iteration of this is really meant for learning where the other side is coming from, rather than attempting to sway them to your side.  I think some altering or clarification of ones own views is a natural byproduct of doing that but I hope it can remain a byproduct and not a focal point.
Civil Politics asked: Do you feel like you changed your opinions about people who differed from you on the issues?  Did others change their opinions about others?
All around yes.  Even as the organizer of an event meant to disintegrate predispositions about people based on their political leanings I was blown away by how much of that happened to me.  We had a wonderfully civil discussion involving people across the entire political spectrum.  Honestly I had more bones to pick with people on “my” side of the aisle not being receptive to opposing ideas than the other way around.  This really solidified my feeling that we have more in common than not and if we just spent more time getting to know each other a lot of our problems perceived problems would be erased.  As someone who identifies as left of center I do always feel the need to include the caveat that I understand I say that from a position of privilege. I am a straight, white, male that has been fortunate enough to be successful in business.  I feel like I understand as well as I can what those that feel attacked by a certain element of the right are scared of at the moment and I don’t want to delegitimize those fears.  But a lot of people on the right are saying “hey that isn’t me at all” so why not listen to them and make allies in your fight against the things that matter to you?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately in the way that we on the left claim (and I think rightfully so) that in a way the far right is to blame for militant Islamist groups by way of Islamophobia giving fodder to radical clerics to prove that there is a war on their religion that requires a response.  Yet we continue to treat the right as if they are a  homogeneous group that is only defined by their fringes and then get surprised when they react by grouping together with people or power centers who are closer ideologically, even if they don’t agree with everything that is being said.
I’d like to personally thank Josh and all the others who are consciously trying to bridge the divisions that we all see are destructive to our political process and our community.  Josh found inspiration in Jon Haidt’s Asteroid’s Club model, but groups like The Village Square, Living Room Conversations, and Essential Partners all have resources that can help you have a positive conversation in your community.  Feel free to email me as well (ravi at civil politics dot org) as I’m happy to offer advice and would love to learn about your efforts as well.  Truth be told, it isn’t as complex as we academics may make it seem and all that is really required is a willingness to listen and try to form a relationship, rather than convince those who disagree.  We’ve been part of many such conversations, and both statistically and anecdotally, people rarely change their mind about issues, but most people walk away with empathy for those they talked with and often, like Josh, a few new friends.
- Ravi Iyer

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Bipartisan Bills are not covered by the Media

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

In the wake of an unprecedentedly negative election season, where both liberals and conservatives have questioned the role of the media, we’ve started to consciously post and promote articles highlighting bipartisan cooperation.  To my surprise, there are a lot of meaningful bipartisan bills that are passed on a regular basis.  Among the many  bipartisan bills that congress has passed in the past month are bills that:

- Streamline health care for veterans by moving to a web-based scheduling system.
- Provide new resources for the State Department to combat persecution of religious minorities
- Give small businesses more input into SEC rule-making processes
- Fund cancer research, mental health systems, and drug addiction treatment
- Improve water infrastructure to address flooding and water availability

A lot of the links above are to relatively low profile publications because these bills don’t get a lot of coverage in the media.  Yet these bills represent actual policy changes that will affect people’s lives.  In contrast, the top political stories in the news right now are about Trump’s praise of Putin’s reaction to delay responding to sanctions, and the refusal of one Mormon Tabernacle singer to sing for Trump’s inauguration.  Both of these stories are often covered more from a partisan lens (e.g. This LA Times article is the top Google News result says “Trump’s effusive words were particularly striking given the bipartisan view of Putin as more adversary than ally.”), highlighting conflicts that are unsurprising and have little new bearing on public policy.

Effectively, politics has become a sport, where the drama of winning and losing is more important than the policies that result.  It is understandable that ad supported businesses do things that attract eyeballs.  Conflict and negativity sell.  Yet it is also understandable that people who want to be informed about things that matter are growing increasingly frustrated with this model and turning to subscriber supported news models where depth trumps sensationalism.  If Facebook’s algorithms don’t get better at keeping people informed rather than entertained, people who want serious information will surely migrate from there as well.  Still, a lot of people will continue to use Facebook as a news source and so we will continue our experiment where we attempt to seed Facebook with news that promotes better policy rather than the permanent campaign.  Please consider “liking” us on Facebook and sharing posts that resonate with you to help us in these efforts.

- Ravi Iyer

 

 

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Republicans Orrin Hatch & Lindsey Graham work with Democrats to preserve the Filibuster

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

With Republicans now controlling all three branches of government, some have suggested that they should remove the filibuster in the Senate, which is the one lever that Democrats can currently use to make their voices heard.  However, more senior senators such as Orrin Hatch and Lindsey Graham have opposed such efforts, even as it would make their preferred legislation easier.

From Upworthy:

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chamber’s longest-serving Republican, is standing up for … Senate Democrats. Hatch, who has served nearly 40 years in the Senate, knows a thing or two about the importance of minority powers as a form of checks and balances.

“Are you kidding?” Hatch responded to a question asked by The Huffington Post about ending the filibuster. “I’m one of the biggest advocates for the filibuster. It’s the only way to protect the minority, and we’ve been in the minority a lot more than we’ve been in the majority. It’s just a great, great protection for the minority.”

From the Huffington Post:

With Republicans in control of the House, the Senate and, come January, the White House, calls have come from some quarters of the Republican Party to eliminate the filibuster and ram through an unadulterated Trumpian agenda.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday thoroughly rejected that approach. “That’s a horrible, terrible idea,” he said after an off-camera briefing with reporters in the Capitol.

Asked if he’d vote against the effort if it came to the Senate floor, he said he would “in a heartbeat.”

Requiring Trump to work with Democrats, Graham added, gives him the chance to make the kinds of deals he wants to make. “There are deals to be made in this body ― big, huge deals,” he said.

This is one of many posts made as part of a post-2016 election project to create a more positive social media environment, helping to counter the partisanship that currently dominates.  Given that negative information is more readily clicked on than positive information, we are hopeful that our readers will seek to consciously break out of this pattern by helping us share articles like this.  Research suggests that seeing members of your group cooperate across group boundaries can lead to a reduction of inter-group tension and we are hopeful that having more such stories of cooperation represented in social media will make an impact.

- Ravi Iyer

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Fight for What You Believe, But Hate Will Never Drive Out Hate

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

I did a radio show earlier today that you can listen to here and I’ve been thinking about the final caller of our segment, who expressed a desire to fight for what they believe in, rather than engaging in a “kumbaya” moment of coming together.  I absolutely think people should fight for what they believe in.  But sometimes the way you fight is with toughness and sometimes it is with love or healing.  I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that a great deal of research has shown to be a fundamental truth.  Extremism begets extremism.  Killing begets killingViolence begets violence.

mlk  It is a truth that directly relates to the cycles of incivility that we see in American politics and a truth that social psychologists often study, because group level reactions to conflict, extremism, violence, and incivility/demonization are fairly predictable; they incite more of the same.  Indeed, there is clear evidence that Terry JonesOsama Bin LadenCharles Manson, and other extremists understand this implicitly and commit their extremist acts with the idea of inciting a wider war.   Psychology research backs their methods.

 

 

Given the reliability with which extremists can create cycles of violence, it remains imperative that those of us who want reduced extremism, incivility, and violence realize the situational causes and consider how to frame things as a cooperative goal of moderates vs. extremists, instead of the conflict frame that extremists might prefer.

It’s an imperative that Martin Luther King put as follows:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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A Post-Election Reconciliation Guide for 2016

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

No matter who wins tomorrow, we need to remember that elections are a means, not an end, and the goal of both political parties is to improve the lives of American citizens, no matter who they voted for.  After such a bitter election season, it will no doubt be hard to work together on governing for the common good, and so we collected the below links that provide advice on how to move bridge our divisions on November 9th.

- This essay by Jon Haidt and I in the Wall Street Journal is a far more conversational restatement of many of the themes we talk about on CivilPolitics.

- Brian Klaas writes in Foreign Policy about what we can learn from reconciliation in more fragile democracies like Tunisia, where members of the winning party actively sought buy-in from those who lost, listened to their concerns, and developed working relationships that dispelled many of the worst fears of election day losers.

- Eric Liu writes in The Atlantic about how reconciliation requires empathic listening and “doing stuff together” in order to reach a place where we still argue, but do so in a more productive way.

- This article talks about how churches are bringing people together under the unifying goal of doing God’s work.

We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that most all of these articles involve specific ideas to implement our over-arching recommendations for disagreeing in a productive way – specifically building relationships and creating cooperative situations.  For our part, in addition to our regular programs, we will be specifically trying to create a more civil social media atmosphere by highlighting situations where partisans work together across the aisle.  If you want to help us improve the partisan atmosphere on social media, please do join our Facebook community and help us spread the word that American democracy is not just arguing about which candidate is worse, but all is still often about working together for the common good.

- Ravi Iyer

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A More Civil Social Media Feed

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

This election season has been ugly enough to turn off even the most avid political junkie and few people will be sad to see it end. Social media has become ground zero of the ugliness, as research has shown that social media often amplifies the political negativity that already exists.  Students of psychology will be unsurprised by this as it is a consistent finding that negative information tends to be more powerful than positive information.  You are more likely to click or donate when an ad tells you how dire a situation is, and so we get ever more social media stories designed to get us to click on their ever more negative and sensational headlines.  And as the algorithms learn that we tend to click on negative stories, we get more of what we click on, leading to a death spiral where our social media feeds are full of the latest political attacks, strangely interspersed with intermittent photos of our friends’ children.

None of us likes this, but there is one thing we can do about it – consciously changing the composition of our social media feeds and by extension, that of our friends, in order to create a more civil Facebook feed.   In the context of this election, it was natural for all of us (me included) to share negative information about the other candidate, in order to achieve our competitive goal.  But after this election, we should take the candidates’ words – that this election is about us and not them – to heart, and focus on the goals we all want to see pass, if only to reduce the acrimony that has made reading social media so dreary for months.

fblikesvssharesAccordingly, CivilPolitics is going to start a new initiative after the election where we post articles about liberals and conservatives working together for the common good.  These stories are not sensational enough to get clicks nor are they likely to lead to donations, so they tend to be under-represented on social media.  By spending our time and money (in the form of social media promotion) on spreading such messages, we will not only help re-train the algorithms of those who choose to help spread these messages, but will also help create an “extended contact effect” where simply knowing that members of opposing groups are working together will help reduce the tensions this election created.  This isn’t something we can do alone, so we are going to explicitly ask you to re-share these messages (sharing retrains Facebook’s algorithms much more than clicking or liking) with your community, in the hopes we can create a more civil social media experience for us all.

Watch this space for more information on November 9th.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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