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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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Apr 15, 2021

In an era of increasing social isolation, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are among the most important tools we have to understand each other. But user behavior suggests that these platforms are also powering deep social divisions online. What is the truth? What can we do to find a balance?

Sociologist Christopher Bail joined us to challenge common myths about echo chambers, foreign misinformation campaigns, and radicalizing algorithms, with support from his book Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing. He explained that, rather than using social media as a mirror to decipher our place in society, it functions more like a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. Backed by innovative online experiments and in-depth interviews with social media users from across the political spectrum, Bail examined how stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized. He took us inside the minds of online extremists, and gleans fresh solutions to counter political tribalism from the bottom up and the top down. And what might the virtual public square look like with a total reset and redesign from scratch? Join him for data-driven recommendations for strengthening our social media connections, combating online polarization without deleting our accounts.

Christopher Bail is professor of sociology and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Polarization Lab. He is the author of Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream.

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