It seems like our nation is the most polarized and divided it’s been since the Civil War, and technology only seems to accelerate polarization. Have you ever found yourself arguing with a relative on Facebook about a political policy? Is it frustrating that no matter what facts you present to your cause, the other person just shrugs them off? Many blame new technology like social media for increasing polarization and fudging the facts, but a group of three former physicists are now seeking to use technology to craft straightforward political messages that are meant to persuade and inform, not for vain debate.
The platform is called Swayable, and it’s designed to help craft clear, concise, and persuasive arguments on a range of political messages. The three physicist who created Swayable – Valerie Coffman, Lyel Resner, and James Slezak – got the idea for Swayable due to the United States’ slow response to climate change concerns. The idea behind Swayable was to bring the same preciseness and scientific testing of theories to political messages.
Swayable’s CEO, Slezak, found the importance of important message delivering while he worked as vice president and chief of operations at NYT Global, owner of the New York times. “What really stood out for me at the Times was that they do a lot of critical reporting on big issues, but it just wasn’t getting through to people on the other side of the filter bubble,” Slezak says. “It was a scary time coming out of the election of 2016 and a lot of people — myself included — wanted to contribute to get the world back on track and the political system more functioning.” Slezak decided to do something about the problems with messages and enlisted two other former physicists to help him.
In 2017 a study conducted by Stanford professor David Brockman and University of California Berkeley found that traditional political messages through advertising, phone calls, and newspaper simply didn’t work but now Swayable can help promote the message by using study groups and crowd-sourcing from sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk and Fiverr before producing the most ‘persuasive’ message for customers. The program relies on the same rigorous testing and sampling methods of science to deliver the most effective message
Swayable is already in use by a few campaigns and Slezak is excited about early results. “We all have the personal experience of getting into arguments and trying to change people’s minds and failing. Yet when you run the experiments, you can see actual real people changing their minds. It’s incremental, but we know we can see it happening, with high degrees of statistical certainty.”