Last Sunday, CHT Co-Founder Tristan Harris and author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes to discuss how social media’s engagement-based business model rewards polarization and undermines basic democratic functioning:
The episode aired on the cusp of a U.S. election season where public trust in government has reached historical lows while election disinformation, political violence, and partisanship have been at an all-time high. Across the political spectrum, people are asking why it feels like our democracy is breaking.
The 60 Minutes episode pulls back the curtain to answer this question. It reveals how decades of perverse incentives and design choices by social media platforms have encouraged outrage, polarization, and reflexive suspicion at the expense of democracy. It also discussed solutions (more on this below), including highlighting our Foundations of Humane Technology course as an action people can take.
The Movement Goes Mainstream
60 Minutes has played a key role in the movement for humane technology. The first time Tristan Harris was on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper in 2017, he popularized the idea of “persuasive technology,” the “attention economy,” and “the race to the bottom of the brain stem” between social media companies. That interview catalyzed a new global conversation, the founding of CHT, and laid the groundwork for The Social Dilemma documentary.
Five years later, 60 Minutes’ is now connecting social media’s business model to polarization and democratic decline for nearly 11 million live viewers. Just as it did in 2017, we hope this 60 Minutes segment establishes new mainstream recognition of how social media affects democracy.
How We’re Strengthening the Movement
We’ve been hard at work to build momentum for solutions:
- We helped launch the Council for Responsible Social Media, which brings together bipartisan technology, government, and national security experts to develop smart, practical policy solutions. The group includes Dick Gephardt (former U.S. Rep), Kerry Healey (former Lt. Gov.), Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, Dr. Danielle Allen, and Fairplay for Kids CEO Josh Golin, among 30+ others.
- We coordinated with the Nantucket Project to activate global leaders around the “Social Media Emergency” in a 4-day convening. From US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to actor and advocate Joseph Gordin Levitt, leaders in finance, business, legislation, national security, public health, and media came together in a multi-stakeholder convening.
- We worked behind the scenes to pass the California Age Appropriate Design Code. The groundbreaking bill requires that social media platforms change the design of their products to prioritize kids’ best interest over profits – a change that we’ve been asking for since our inception.
How You Can Strengthen the Movement
Conversations and platforms like 60 Minutes signal the growing movement. But all of us drive the movement, too. We’ve included some key actions that everyone can support below:
- Join one of our upcoming events or register for our course to learn how to design and develop technology that strengthens democracy.
- Support banning political advertising on social media platforms to limit disinformation, violence, extremism, and paid election interference.
- Advocate for open primaries so that candidates on either side are not out-competing each other with more extreme positions.
- Institute ranked-choice voting to eliminate two-party duopolies by allowing third parties to run without wasted or strategic votes.
- Endorse technology that strengthens democracies rather than weakens them. Learn more about what Taiwan, Estonia, and others are doing to use technology for the common good.
We’d deeply appreciate it if you could forward this email to your network to grow the movement. If you are interested in learning more about how social media threatens democratic functioning, please visit our new landing page for more information.
WHAT WE'RE READING, LISTENING TO, & WATCHING
- The Strengthening Democracy Challenge was a crowd-sourced project by researchers aiming to find solutions to the current-day political divide. Civic Health Project highlights some of the most successful approaches from the challenge which encourage Americans to choose democracy over party:
- ~Make the threat of democratic collapse in America tangible by sharing real-world examples such as what's happening in Venezuela.
- ~Correcting perception gaps by sharing data that shows we’re much more aligned than we think.
- ~Reduce partisan animosity by sharing positive interactions between people with ideological differences.
The Challenge grant program is offering awards of up to $50,000 to teams that will implement, scale, and measure these real-world interventions. Grant applications are due Fri, Jan 13, 2023.
- CHT Co-Founder Randima (Randy) Fernando joined the Mind and Life Podcast to discuss technology from a mindfulness perspective: challenges we face, common myths, how technology can be more humane, and much more.