Front Porch Forum‘s Co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, joined Ethan Zuckerman of Reimagining the Internet for an interview on running a healthy online community. Reimagining the Internet is a podcast that talks to experts in the field about what isn’t working with social media and how it can be improved. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, was also a recent guest of the podcast.
Technology and the way people use it has the power to unite people or pull them apart. Ethan Zuckerman and Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci of Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University took a closer look at platforms that bring communities together on a local level, only to find that some designs work better than others.
Platforms that operate more like social media, where individuals can post whatever they want instantaneously, can lead to heated, attacking commentary, false accusations, or misinformation. This kind of content may cause civil discourse to devolve and it may disrupt the establishment of ties within a community.
On the other hand, Front Porch Forum is an example of a local platform that has systems in place to help keep conversations civil and community-minded, fulfilling its mission of helping neighbors build community. From Rajendra-Nicolucci and Zuckerman’s piece:
“That organic growth was key to maintaining one of the key differences between FPF and Nextdoor: proactive moderation. FPF uses a team of moderators that review each post to make sure it adheres to the site’s code of conduct (which bars personal attacks and behavior “counter to its community-building mission”) before it’s posted. That helps to keep the discussion friendly and constructive… We believe a platform that takes governance seriously, is designed for a specific purpose, and has ties to the communities it serves can be successful anywhere.”
The authors also share the criteria by which they evaluate various platforms. These platforms operate on a local level broken into neighborhoods, towns, or city blocks.
“Getting local social media right is important. Local platforms present an opportunity to strengthen social capital and civic life. At their best, they can keep residents informed about local issues, encourage civic organizing and action, and facilitate new connections and greater understanding.”
Read the full article on Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University’s blog here.
His first two points in his summary map onto our thinking of Big Tech vs. Front Porch Forum…
““ Social media is often not very good for us as citizens in a democracy. That shouldn’t surprise us, as it wasn’t designed to be a space for civic discourse ““ it was designed to capture our attention and our personal data for use in targeting ads.
““ If we wanted media that was good for democratic societies, we’d need to build tools expressly designed for those goals.
Additionally, “a vast majority of respondents said they had a computer and used (1) the internet, (2) email and (3) Front Porch Forum, while just over half of all respondents said they used social media.”
In town after town across Vermont we see a similar trend with seniors and local folks of all ages… the “vast majority” of people tune into their local FPF. Your neighbors are talking on FPF… join the conversation!
Katy Steinmetz reports for Time magazine on how Instagram is trying to use AI to reduce how much the platform is used for cyberbullying, but as she notes, “it’s much easier to recognize when someone in a photo is not wearing pants than it is to recognize the broad array of behavior that might be considered bullying.” Oh, and the person in charge of this whole effort, Adam Mosseri, previously was in charge of the development of Facebook NewsFeed, so this should inspire confidence. (How does your AI read sarcasm, he asked.)
One problem with Steinmetz’s article is that she accepts the frame of all the blitzscaled platforms, which is that connecting the entire world online requires massively open platforms, unfortunately creating massive toxic effects. But cyberbullying isn’t, as Steinmetz writes, “a problem that crops up anywhere the people congregate online.” It’s a problem that crops up wherever a platform has been optimized for engagement over any other value, and where there is limited to no human moderation. For example, a user of Front Porch Forum in Vermont, where each instance is centered on a neighborhood of roughly 1000 households and a paid part-time moderator helps keep the conversation civil, does not experience cyberbullying, as a recent study found.
Did you know that nearly one-third of low-income Americans don’t have a broadband-connected computer and can only access the internet by mobile phone?
FPF is committed to making it easy for all Vermonters to participate in their local Front Porch Forum. We’re building a mobile app to make FPF even more inclusive. We need to raise $30,000 by next Tuesday to accomplish this. Please help today: https://frontporchforum.com/supporting-members
More than 160,000 Vermonters participate on their local FPF daily. With your help, even more will be able to join the conversation.
Front Porch Forum PO Box 64781 Burlington, VT 05406-4781
FPF is a Vermont business, with a staff of 18, that serves every community in the state. We are not a charity and contributions are not tax deductible. Most of our expenses are covered by ad sales to Vermont businesses, and your Supporting Member contribution helps close the gap. Thank you!
UPDATE: We surpassed our funding goal by our deadline! Thanks so much to the many FPF Supporting Members who chipped in. Stay tuned for news about the FPF mobile app launch coming soon!
VPR correspondent, Stephanie Green, shared her FPF experience on the radio this morning. Looking to her neighbors for recommendations on a good plumber, she was “astounded to get 13 useful replies in 24 hours…. I had no idea so many people read these posts so closely – or felt so passionately about their plumbers. And the re-connection to my neighbors was heartening. This, I think, is social media at its best, and it’s a relief when we’re daily buffeted by national headlines about social media at its very worst.”
Varying opinions on a topic or issue can be difficult when not approached in a civic manner. Front Porch Forum members weigh in:
“Should we be discussing controversial issues on FPF? If not here, where? One of the problems with our pop culture these days is that we are constantly talking to those we agree with. Our social media echo chambers are really hurting our democracy. FPF is fundamentally different from Facebook. It is a platform where I can talk to my neighbors and they can talk to me. Facebook seems to be a self selecting group which will frequently share ones own views. How can we find common ground if we do not talk to one another? I think the discussion on guns in FPF has been respectful, diverse and informative.” • Jeff in Richmond
Use Front Porch Forum to have civil discussions on tough topics and connect with your neighbors.