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Dutch app Bubbel Chat matches people with opposing political views for genuine dialogue

The Netherlands is holding parliamentary elections on 22 November 2023. As in most other democracies, political opinions are sharply divided. Helping regular people break out of their echo chambers, a new app called Bubbel Chat matches users with opposing views for the opportunity to discuss hot-button topics with folks who aren't like-minded.

Chats are anonymous, with users selecting one of six non-specific avatar shapes and Bubbel Chat generating usernames like Competent Kookaburra and Majestic Cheetah. Users tap on the party they'll vote for in the upcoming election, and the party logo is displayed with their avatar. The app then finds someone who picked an opposing party. Both users are presented with the same statement — for example, "Nature conservation zones should be established on land currently used for agriculture" — and after they've indicated their stance, they start discussing that topic. Switching to a new statement is possible at any point during a chat.

Users can participate in up to five chats at a time. To ensure interactions remain civil — which obviously isn't a given, especially when users are anonymous — people are asked to report bad behavior. Once three different people have filed complaints about an individual, the offender is barred from the platform for three months. Bubbel Chat launched yesterday and was created by civic engagement startup Civinc, which also facilitates conversations in classrooms and workplaces.

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While a degree of polarization is a healthy element of democratic societies, extreme divides — amplified by social media's filter bubbles and echo chambers — can increase incivility and tribalism, lead to an 'us versus them' mindset and even contribute to politically motivated violence. For those divides to be bridged, we need a societal pivot toward valuing alternate points of view. Which is where innovations like Bubbel Chat come in, fostering balanced conversations.

Since the platform is presented as a place to connect with people harboring dissimilar beliefs, there's an element of self-selection at play on Bubbel Chat; it's apt to attract users willing to venture outside their filter bubbles. Still, it's not unlikely that people behave with greater civility when interacting one-on-one. Without an audience or peers to impress, without the fear of publicly losing face, the odds are higher that they'll engage in genuine dialogue.

Every brand with an audience has the power to connect perspectives and build mutual understanding — even if it's just by consistently nurturing respect and empathy in the comment sections on their social media accounts. How could your organization help normalize nuanced conversation?

Innovation of the day

  Spotted by: Liesbeth den Toom