‘The more extreme ends of the spectrum won’t like us very much’: The ousted cofounder of controversial social app Parler is launching new ‘civil conversation’ platform Hedgehog



America: We need to talk. Social media doesn’t have to be this way. Not the way we “talk” now, with everyone screaming and shouting past each other, flinging insults and threats. It’s become impossible to have a civil conversation among reasonable people. We no longer productively debate issues in good faith–and we can’t even agree to disagree. 

Social media companies made that happen–not for any benefit to society but because it’s good for business. Algorithms prize engagement. And nothing drives engagement like outrage and anger.

You can see the effects everywhere. When the Pew Research Center asked people to use one word to describe our modern politics, every single word was negative. We’ve lost hope, and more importantly, we’ve lost the forum to figure out how to reasonably solve our problems. 

Granted, I’m not without sin here, either. Three years ago, I created Parler, which was once the fastest-growing social platform in the world before things (very publicly) came crashing down. I founded and ran Parler with the best of intentions, and I’m ashamed that it was hijacked by bad actors looking to promote toxicity and drive a malicious political agenda. (In fact, I’m pursuing my rights and remedies in litigation against Parler, and I expect to win, despite the defendants’ denial of any wrongdoing.)  

However, that is not enough. I am determined to learn from past mistakes and build a new platform that is designed to embrace and reward productive, civil conversation. A platform that’s made from the ground up to avoid the worst excesses of social media and give you a place to actually talk with–not at–each other. Someplace that realizes the full promise of social media–a community for healthy, respectful interaction. 

That place is our new app, Hedgehog. On Hedgehog, there are no bots, no trolls, no jerks. It is a place to have smart, thoughtful conversations, in part by having high-quality news headlines curated by an expert team, as well as community moderation to remove bad actors. A layer of AI tools will help you in doing so without trying to replace you. It’s the antidote to the toxic cesspool of social media invective currently poisoning us and turning us against each other. 

Why another social media platform, when there are so many already? Because the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. Global events with devastating repercussions are crashing on our doorsteps–U.S. political paralysis, wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, tensions with Russia and China–and social media is being used to deceive us about all of it. Misinformation runs rampant and unchecked as platforms actively decrease their moderation, step away from ties with news publishers, and whistle softly while troll farms abuse their systems to deceive the American public. 

Many of the largest social platforms are also increasingly seen as aligned with one political point of view or another. “That’s the conservative social network now” or “only the libs use that” and so on. Everything is assumed to be biased everywhere, even if it’s really nothing more than an empty void to shout into without purpose.

Our team wanted to create a place that didn’t have those biases or those misinformation trolls. We named it Hedgehog because a free exchange of ideas should poke everyone equally.

It’s fair to say that the more extreme ends of the spectrum won’t like us very much because we challenge their orthodoxy–and aren’t especially gentle about it. But for the reasonable middle–those among you who actually want to discuss, debate, and solve problems–we want to offer a place to engage productively, without favoring one point of view or falling victim to bland “bothsidesism.”

If it all sounds a bit idealistic, that’s the point. Someone must fix what’s wrong. We can’t go on shouting at each other unproductively and unashamedly while armies of keyboard warriors in shadowy foreign warehouses sow discontent among us. There has to be a place where people of goodwill act in good faith to authentically discuss real issues and exchange points of view. 

We can talk to each other again. And we should–while we still can.

John Matze is the CEO of Hedgehog.

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