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We all know that internet gatherings can be either insensitive and snarky or welcoming and informative. On Tech hosts a virtual event for New York Times subscribers. It will discuss what makes healthy online community tick and how you can get more.
People like Kate Bilowitz are an essential ingredient.
Bilowitz is a co-founder of a Facebook group called Vaccine Talk, which describes itself as an “evidence-based discussion forum” for people with varying beliefs about vaccinations to better understand one another.
You might imagine raging shout fests, but I’ve been watching Vaccine Talk since I read about the group in The Washington Post, and I’ve mostly seen discussions that are empathetic, civil and nuanced. I’ve gotten teary reading the compassionate replies to someone worried about Covid vaccinations harming a loved one recovering from cancer.
Vaccine Talk isn’t perfect, and the group’s work is fraught. Facebook acknowledges that Vaccine Talk is the kind of group that it wants on its site, but Bilowitz told me that the group’s overseers are constantly worried about being shut down. (More about that in a minute.
Vaccine Talk shows us that our online experiences are shaped and influenced by the people who manage our favorite Facebook groups, Nextdoor neighborhood gatherings, Reddit parenting forum, Discord book group, or Discord book group.
In my ideal world Mark Zuckerberg would be the best online community host. This newsletter is just one way to get them more attention.
Vaccine Talk is a time-consuming job. Bilowitz, a parent who works in real-estate, stated that she spent approximately 10 to 15 hours per week on the Facebook group. I asked why she devoted so much time to a volunteer role in which she’s occasionally yelled at by strangers.
“It is extremely rewarding when people tell us that the group helped them,” Bilowitz said. “We’re not here to preach at people, but when people are hesitant about vaccines and they find information that helps them become confident in their decision — honestly, that is the No. 1 reason why we do this.”
The irony of building great online communities is that if they’re working, they can seem effortless. They are definitely not. Bilowitz stated that the Vaccine Talk overseers, like other online groups, worked hard for a healthy culture, and to design and enforce codes.
Vaccine Talk began more than four decades ago and focuses mainly upon childhood vaccines like measles. The original idea was to allow for any kind of conversation. “That did not work,” Bilowitz said. “It was not a civil discussion forum.” Many people — particularly those in the vast middle between strongly pro- or anti-vaccine views — tuned out.
Respectful behavior is required. The group provides tips on how to back up claims with evidence. “Excessive complaining” about the group or how it’s run is off limits. Nearly 30 moderators are scattered across multiple time zones to monitor comments and approve newcomers who wish to join this group, which has around 77,000 members.
Bilowitz knows that some people feel stifled by Vaccine Talk’s guardrails, but she considers them essential for productive conversation.
The dangers of false information about vaccines complicate the group’s work and Facebook’s. Facebook has established rules to prevent misinformation from being posted on its site. These rules prohibit information that fact-checking or health authorities consider false about vaccines. But this poses a challenge to groups like Vaccine Talk, where people may sometimes post misinformation to get help debunking it — something that is allowed in Facebook’s rules.
Bilowitz said that twice this year, Facebook disabled Vaccine Talk for several hours as a punishment for violating the company’s policies against misinformation. Facebook informed me that the group was removed once, and that it was a mistake.
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A Facebook spokesman, Leonard Lam, told me that there was “more the company can do to support well-intentioned communities like Vaccine Talk.”
You’ll hear more from Bilowitz, along with a founder of Reddit and a famous drag performer, at the On Tech event on Thursday. I hope that you’ll join me to better understand the work of people like her who shape technology into the lived reality for the rest of us.
Slack also offers a group chat where you can discuss the changing role technology plays in your daily life with other readers. Once you sign up, you will receive an invitation to the group.
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Before we go …
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Huge thanks to this
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Source: NY Times