Republished with permission from Peace News Network (Written by Kate Roff)

Online ‘bots’ are normally viewed in a negative light, but this social enterprise is proving that they can also be used for good.

In light of the increasing political divisions in online media, the organization Build Up is using social media bots to help depolarize conversations. Their project called The Commons contacts people who may want to connect with others and look for common ground.

Jacob Lefton from Build Up says: “What polarization is as a phenomenon, is that groups of people are separating from each other and building stereotypes of the other groups of people, and losing shared facts and losing shared language to talk about the issues, and it doesn’t matter if one side is right or wrong in this if there can’t be a healthy civic conversation.”

“And for us it’s one of the indicators for a society that’s sliding toward conflict,” Lefton said. “And we’re seeing more extreme hate speech… and these stronger and stronger divisions.”

So first a bot contacts them, and says, ‘Hi, it’s interesting that you’re talking about this.’ Then, they are asked an open question about what they think regarding the broader topic of polarization, which tries to invite a response.

“Then if they respond, we follow up with a facilitator who then takes it and attempts to have a longer conversation with them to find out what their core values are and their issues and invite them to further action in depolarizing the way that these conversations are happening.”

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“It’s really hard to bring people together, and so that’s why we think it’s necessary… basically saying ‘Can we do the same types of active interventions in these platforms as people who are using it as adversarial technique, but can we do it as a connecting technique?’”

The project is explicitly non-partisan and has reached out to over 12,400 people online. Build Up will present its full findings at MIT in March – and they hope that the research will show that they have built a little peace online.

“We can’t expect that everyone will become an actor,” said Lefton, “But we can believe that if we raise people’s awareness of it, and engage them in healthy conversations about it then maybe in future conversations they will have more tools to engage with them in a healthy way.”

Pass On This Positive Bot Bit to Your Online Friends, so they can be on the look-out for this…