From data-harvesting and ideological echo-chambers to hate speech and trolling, the big social-media platforms are facing more criticism than ever before. Less tech utopias, and more saloon brawls in 1940s western movies where everyone gets beaten up (except the owners, who get rich from the ruckus). Which makes the latest pronouncements from entrepreneur and web-activist Eli Pariser both timely and poignant.

He’s the man who first coined the term ’filter bubble’ to describe what happens when recommendation algorithms super-serve you thinks they think you’d like / agree with. Now he’s making a bigger argument: that we need to build new social networks from the ground up, using urban planning as our guide.

Having outlined his ideas in a TED Talk, Pariser has also sat down with The Verge for a detailed interview, which is well worth your time. “You can watch the same group of people walk into a library and they quiet their voices and their posture changes, and then watch them walk into a bar and see how their behaviour shifts. Creating expectations for how people ought to behave is important, as is putting constraints on how we relate to each other,” is one of his points. And on how this might apply to the digital world: “Part of what I’m trying to argue for isn’t for one structure that serves everyone. There’s lots of different types of buildings and rooms that serve different purposes. But these vast open expanses have limited value. People react to them in antisocial ways because of the sense of the level of noise and the sense of overwhelm they feel.” The full interview (and TED Talk) are worth a look.

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