Jan 29, 2019

StoryCorps aims to counter online platforms' "scary" polarization

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.

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World coronavirus updates

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There are no COVID-19 patients in hospital in New Zealand, which reported just 21 active cases after days of zero new infections. A top NZ health official said Tuesday he's "confident we have broken the chain of domestic transmission."

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.9 million tests).

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Coronavirus antibody tests are still relatively unreliable, and it's unclear if people who get the virus are immune to getting it again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned on Tuesday.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 5,588,299 — Total deaths: 350,417 — Total recoveries — 2,286,827Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 1,680,625 — Total deaths: 98,902 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Federal response: DOJ investigates meatpacking industry over soaring beef pricesMike Pence's press secretary returns to work.
  4. Congress: House Republicans to sue Nancy Pelosi in effort to block proxy voting.
  5. Business: How the new workplace could leave parents behind.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets about mail-in voting for first timeGoogle to open offices July 6 for 10% of workers.
  7. Public health: Coronavirus antibodies could give "short-term immunity," CDC says, but more data is neededCDC releases guidance on when you can be around others after contracting the virus.
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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy