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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

Updated 4 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 7 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 7 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.