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danah boyd | apophenia » Why America is Self-Segregating

A thoughtful piece from danah boyd on how difficult it is to avoid self-segregation in online (as well as physical) communities: in simplistic terms, that we tend to gravitate to those we see as like us, away from those that seem different, and that unfettered (profit-led) social media tend to facilitate the problem rather than reduce it. It is, after all, one of the great benefits of online engagement that we have more choice, more control, and more reach. But we have that as individuals. This has emergent effects, far from all positive, on communities as a whole, that have contributed in some ways to the US reaching its current disastrous state of political collapse. Boyd explores a range of ways that such problems are addressed in traditional social systems, and a range of ways the problem emerges in digital social media.

This is - from a broad perspective that considers human, organization, social systems to be as much a part of the fabric of social media design as the digital tools - essentially a design problem. As boyd writes:

"If we want to develop a healthy democracy, we need a diverse and highly connected social fabric. This requires creating contexts in which the American public voluntarily struggles with the challenges of diversity to build bonds that will last a lifetime. We have been systematically undoing this, and the public has used new technological advances to make their lives easier by self-segregating. This has increased polarization, and we’re going to pay a heavy price for this going forward. Rather than focusing on what media enterprises can and should do, we need to focus instead on building new infrastructures for connection where people have a purpose for coming together across divisions. We need that social infrastructure just as much as we need bridges and roads."

In a very relevant example of this kind of bridge building, an Israeli colleague shared a link ( with me the other day, describing a fascinating project that has been running for a few years now that is aimed at increasing connection and understanding between religiously segregated groups (Arab, Jew, Christian, non-religious) of children in Israel, using social media of various kinds (in this case, an immersive world, though the video refers to other social media and, above all, the methods that make it possible). It's a really well thought through process that is seeking fairly large-scale changes in attitudes from the ground up, starting with people who are at an age when prejudices are more malleable.

(if this video just appears as a blank space, your browser is blocking it - if possible, unblock it! Sadly, browsers are enforcing such things in more draconian ways nowadays so it may be tricky to do this, in which case copy and paste it into your browser address bar to see the video)


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