IHP: Listening to each other in polarized times

5 August, 2019

Extracts and a comment from me below. Full text here: https://www.internationalhealthpolicies.org/featured-article/listening-t...

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In many countries around the globe, the debate in the public arena has become harsh. Yes, the Internet and social media platforms have dramatically multiplied opportunities for people to share opinions, comment on social, cultural and political events, interact with like-minded and other people,… which is great. At the same time, however, this plethora of communication channels – that can be (and often are) used anonymously – boosted intensity, and in many cases brutality in tone and content when “discussing”. With, unfortunately, increasingly very polarized and sterile debates as a result. The very nature of communication on social media – going for short, crisp and often provocative messages – makes it poorly fit to address complex issues and provide proper space for nuancing. True, Global Health remains a bit of an ‘outlier’ in this respect: social media traffic on issues pertaining to Global Health has generally remained ‘civilized’. Let us cross fingers. Still, Global Health doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and faces an ever more polarizing world...

It is a bit in the light of all these trends that a small consortium of Flemish information media (Knack, De Standaard, Bruzz and StampMedia) launched a very interesting project earlier this year... The initiative was about promoting dialogue between people with different, sometimes fiercely opposed ideas and opinions on a wide range of themes, cross-cutting society... Citizens aged 18 or more were offered the possibility to debate with somebody (unknown to them) who had also accepted the invitation to participate, but with different ideas and opinions on a range of issues...

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Comment (NPW): As this article points out, many-to-many anonymous virtual interactions are often 'polarized and sterile', 'brutal'. How best to promote incremental learning and understanding of the diversity of perspectives in global health issues, and a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, respect and curiosity? Can we put the case that (non-anonymous, moderated) communities of practice such as HIFA have a *huge* untapped potential? Can we identify the relatively tiny amount of funding we need to enable us to progressively realise this potential? (I have noted that some other CoPs in global health and international development have closed down in recent months due to lack of funding, at a time when they are most needed. Let's make sure HIFA does not go the same way. If you can help, please contact me: neil@hifa.org )

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org