Skip to content
Who's in the Video

Sarah Ruger

Sarah Ruger directs free expression initiatives for the Charles Koch Institute and Foundation. She is a passionate advocate for open inquiry, free speech rights, and engagement that respects the dignity[…]
In Partnership With
Charles Koch Foundation

SARAH RUGER: I don't have the easy answer for how to have constructive dialogue online because though it's been a decade or two since the internet has existed -- it feels like my whole life -- but it's still a relatively new technology, new phenomenon and we're still trying to figure it out. I mean, it's as disruptive as the invention of the printing press was to our society and how we organize and it's going to take us time to figure out what healthy behaviors look like in that context. That's why it's so vital to bring together interdisciplinary scholars and research across philosophical and discipline divides. That's why we're so committed to supporting scholars who are asking those exact questions, you know, what does facilitate mentally healthy practices online? From a content moderation standpoint, what methods have lead to more civil communities and what have lead to greater breakdown? All of that study is playing out and will continue to do so. I think the best that we can do as individuals during that time is to tune in to content like this as much as possible.

There's some good advice out there for what we've found thus far. I was talking with a Princeton-trained neuroscientist who is now running a platform and research center that tracks the proliferation of hate speech online and what was so interesting about how he was talking about this is he was talking about incivility and hate online as almost a contagion, like a virus. Like the kind of thing that has a definite starting point and proliferates wildly through basically bad digital mental hygiene practices. And we've actually been thinking about the challenge of intolerance lately as a philanthropy, almost like you would in addressing a public health crisis so that really resonated with me. How do you get people together who are going to tackle a problem from a lot of different angles? How do you get neuroscientists together who can see how people behave when they're becoming intolerant or moving restoratively to a place of tolerance, how do you get them together with technologists who are designing the platforms, get them together with the conflict resolution theorists who are seeing the models that are working in highly fractured countries abroad, get them together with the philosophers who are asking normative questions about how we best flourish as human beings and get them all to come together and figure out what best promotes toleration and peace and what causes degradation into that virus of intolerance?

I think the more we study it, similar to how we study disease or other major systemic problems, the more we'll start to identify common themes, common factors that lead to the negative outcomes and the more that we can digest those common factors into a set of almost individual responsibilities or best practices that inoculate you from those harmful views and prevent you from escalating to the point of those behaviors that harm society and ultimately when we harm each other we harm ourselves as individuals.