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How to Make Zoom Democratic

The fact that Zoom (and other such platforms) have been of great social and public service during the pandemic should not make one overlook their limitations and hence the need for still other platforms. I hence forged one, CivilDialogues.org, and I am comparing it to Zoom here next.

· Zoom needs to be scheduled and one has to join the discourse at the set time, whether it suits one’s other duties or not. One can join dialogues on CivilDialogues.org at any time.

· Zoom participants do not need to show their true face; they can hide behind a blank screen, an old photo, or a picture of someone or something else, or otherwise misrepresent themselves. Only people willing to have their identity verified can join the discourse on CivilDialogues.org.

· One may argue that being able to post anonymously is vital for privacy and dissent. Indeed, there are thousands of platforms where one can post anonymously. CivilDialogues.org offers one place for those willing to reveal their true identity, on the ground that it will make for much less toxic discourse, as the evidence has shown. In fact, over 25 Civil Dialogue events held in collaboration with Arena Stage were very civil. Nearly all of the dialogues are available on YouTube, where you can see them for yourself.

· Most Zoom meetings are like writing on ice; one moment there is a give and take, next it is gone. True, one can record a Zoom meeting, but most don’t and those who do have ideas scramble as the discussion veers from one subject to another. Give-and-takes on CivilDialogues.org are organized by subjects, and all remarks are made in writing and saved, allowing any participant to comment on any preceding statement or opinion.

· Zoom, especially when used for consensus building rather than for work meetings or social gatherings, generally captures people’s instantaneous response to whatever idea or provocation they face. This is the kind of response that worried the founding fathers. CivilDialogues.org provides a delay loop, to allow time for reflection and deliberation before people vote on resolutions. Furthermore, it takes a majority vote to close a particular dialogue. CivilDialogues.org tries to provide for what a virtual townhall meeting should be like.

· Unlike many other platforms, CivilDialogues.org accepts no ads, imposes no charges, and sells nothing. Above all, it does not share the limited information it collects, or the dialogues that take place on it, with third parties or anyone else.

How much does CivilDialogues.org add to Zooming? Maybe you can judge for yourself. We would love to learn from your observations. Please post them to the Dialogue on Civil Dialogues community, at CivilDialogues.org.

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Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and professor of international relations at the George Washington University.

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Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and professor of international relations at the George Washington University.

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