The case for creating "public parks" on the Internet

Eli Pariser is the author of The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think as well as one of the original founders of Upworthy (and, full disclosure, my former boss there). Since leaving Upworthy, he's focused his efforts on a new project called Civic Signals, which explores new ways to leverage the democratic power of the Internet for good and for positive change.

That sounds like both a refreshing, and radical concept at a time like this. But Pariser has a great new essay at Wired where he articulates a major part of this vision: creating the equivalent of public parks but online, to use as community gathering spaces, instead of just feeding everything and everyone into the Endless Black Hole Of Content That Demands A Sacrifice:

Now, accelerated by the pandemic, we spend much of our time living and conversing with others in a different location: digital space. But social media and messaging platforms weren't designed to serve as public spaces. They were designed to monetize attention.


Once the territory is conquered, blitz-scaling commanders naturally become Boy Emperors with huge blind spots. One of the reasons Twitter, for example, has been a hostile space for women and people of color for so long is that the company's white male decisionmakers simply don't get harassed in the same way. A world with a "public square" designed by a small group of white dudes of a certain age is not going to serve everyone equally or well. (This is why other empires have, historically, not worked out very well either.)

Great public spaces are owned by everyone and therefore ought to be designed for everyone. Community board meetings and governance processes can be slow, annoying, and very frictional. But—when they're working properly—they force designers to contend with and listen to the communities they ostensibly serve.

Pariser goes on to explain what he sees as the 3 major shortcomings of our existing social media stratosphere, as well as the 3 greatest challenges that will arise in creating that sorts of idyllic Whitman-esque "public parks." And maybe by clearly articulating those issues, we can start to carve out a path towards a better future.

To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks [Eli Pariser / Wired]

Image: Dan Deluca / Flickr (CC 2.0)