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The StoryCorps recording booth in Grand Central Terminal. Photo: ANDREW HOLBROOKE/Corbis via Getty Images

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, who has spent a large part of his career facilitating conversations between individuals in person, says the way large online platforms transform discourse “scares the s--- out of me.”

The big picture: Since its 2003 founding, StoryCorps has recorded conversations between people who know each other — preserving the interactions for posterity. In response to a moment of intense political polarization, it has started to record pairs of individuals from sharply different viewpoints talking with each other about their lives.

Details: Isay describes himself as a limited user of Facebook and Twitter, finding that online platforms have polarized political debate by rewarding frustration and anger with more likes and comments.

  • "On Twitter, it's completely disposable and you're reinforced for being nasty," he told Axios on the sidelines of the Koch political network’s annual winter gathering for hundreds of its top donors.
  • "It's just a self-perpetuating, incredibly dangerous, feedback loop," he said, noting that online rage will eventually lead to physical actions.
  • "At StoryCorps, it's the opposite of disposable. It lasts forever, and every instinct is to be your best self," he said.

Isay was featured on an after-dinner panel for donors on Saturday about polarization. A Koch-affiliated foundation is among the funders of the new project, called One Small Step.

  • Isay says the initiative has proven very successful.
  • “My experience in the last 18 months has been that things are worse in the country than we realize, but people are scared and they’re open to trying to fix it,” he said.

What's next: Hundreds of people have participated in One Small Step interviews so far, said Isay, but the organization expects to grow the program significantly.

Go deeper

COVID-19 drives smell loss awareness, research

A health worker carries out an olfactory test outside Buenos Aires. Photo: Alejandro Pagni/AFP via Getty Images

The pandemic has thrust a relatively unknown ailment, anosmia — or smell loss — into the international spotlight.

Why it matters: Researchers hope smell testing becomes as standard as the annual flu shot, helping to detect early signs of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Health

Why we need to know COVID's origins

The WHO's headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Geopolitical tensions are foiling efforts to get to the bottom of how COVID-19 originated.

Why it matters: Insights into how COVID-19 began can help us prevent future pandemics — especially if it involved any kind of leak or accident at a virology lab.