Emily Parker on the social media we deserve
Emily Parker, author of the book Now I Know Who My Comrades Are, joined us this week to discuss her latest article, Why we can’t fix Twitter. Here’s an excerpt:
Imagine that a Silicon Valley start-up created an online discussion platform precisely to address this problem. There would be no trolls or shouting matches. Shrill sound bites would be replaced by measured conversations. Users would span the political spectrum, allowing for civil exchanges among people with different views.
“Wow,” you’d probably say. “The world needs a platform like that, especially right now!” You’d sign up. Then, you’d go right back to Twitter.
How do I know this? Because we created that alternative platform. It was an online discussion forum called Parlio, and its chief purpose was to host civil, thoughtful conversations. Parlio was founded by Wael Ghonim, the former Google executive best known for running the Facebook page that helped spark the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
As the euphoria over the revolution faded, Ghonim found that social media only amplified polarization. “The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart,” he said. In 2015 he and Osman Osman, another former Googler, launched Parlio, and I became chief strategy officer.
The user experience was straightforward. A member would post a short piece of writing, or maybe a link to an article. Then, other members would discuss it. We also hosted Q&As. But Parlio’s culture was markedly different from other social media platforms. It was intended for conversation, not mass broadcasting. You had to be invited to post, but anyone could be a reader. New members signed a civility pledge, and we had a zero-tolerance policy toward trolls.
I myself very much enjoyed reading the discussion threads on Parlio, and was especially impressed by a debate about the efficacy of the US normalising its relationship with Cuba, an issue I know something about. The caliber of the participants and the thoughtfulness of the debate — and yes, the civility — were unlike anything I had come across elsewhere on the Internet with respect to this topic.
But the platform turned out not to scale easily, and eventually the company was acquired and absorbed by Quora. “The main takeaway,” Parker writes, “is that the social media experience that people say they want is often different from the one that they actively pursue.” She picked up numerous lessons about the psychology of social media users along the way and shared them with us in our chat.
Our quick takes on five social media platforms
Shannon and I trade thoughts on five social media platforms — Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn — and discuss how those platforms have been evolving, their popularity, and what we ourselves get out of them.