Kindness: From extractive to positive technology — online platforms for good can rebuild our empathy

The potential unity of technology and mankind for the better. Credit: Daniil Balabushkin,

By Saul Myhre, Alliance Intern from University of Minnesota Twin Cities

It seems empathy is dying all around us. Jamil Zaki of Scientific American attributes it to the online world, saying “technology will be charged with the murder.” He points to Google ethicist Tristan Harris, who calls platforms like Twitter and Facebook “extractive technology” in which media echo chambers are formed and outrage is rewarded. Harris and his recently founded Center for Humane Technology (CHT) study the harmful effects of extractive tech and have identified “positive technology” as the antithesis.

The CHT supports the developers of positive tech platforms such as Change My View (CMV) and 7cups, sites that look to restore human empathy online. CMV is a forum in which opinions are posted and commenters are rewarded for “thoughtful, genuine dialogue,” that respectfully changes one’s views, according to Wired. Zaki elaborates “our capacity for empathy runs just as deep as our vanity, outrage or fear.” CMV acts as a regenerative force for good, that doesn’t amplify and “takeadvantage-of our frailties.

On the other hand, the site 7cups is as “helpful as professional psychotherapy,” according to the Journal of Mental Health, allowing users to post about their struggles with commenters providing support and guidance. User “Ava C” attests her “stresses were relieved immediately from the empathy I was given” and that “nothing makes me happier than a person responding and telling me that I’ve helped them.” This sounds far better than yelling into the seemly endless void of toxicity that extractive sites promote.

Social media if “used differently, could become a world-sized magnifying glass for our better angels” as “people’s ability to connect is the glue that holds our culture together” Jamil Zaki exclaims. As extractive tech grows more sophisticated and learns to monetize hatred, it’s positive tech platforms that look to trailblaze “new communities around kindness” such as Change My View, 7cups and many more. Consider contributing to communities like these as we strive to make the earth a more empathetic environment.

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