Presenting Parlio – A social media tool for reconciliation?

Wael Ghonim, face of the Arab Spring in 2010, founded the project Parlio in Silicon Valley, offering an alternative information portal to Facebook, which meanwhile is dominated by pussy-cat videos and selfies-in-bathroom-posts. Ghonim, who experienced hate and defamation through the internet, decided to create this platform for a civilized dialogue and profound exchange. But why did Facebook fail to be a democratic tool and broad information resource?


Revolution 2.0 – The Sunday Times

I remember that until 2010 Facebook and Twitter were glorified to be the new revolutionary social media tools. And the word revolutionary must be interpreted literally. They were expected to transform political systems because of their contribution to the liberty of speech, the acquisition of alternative information and their power to reach a large portion of the world. However, five years after the beginning of the Arab Spring we rather talk of a „Net Delusion“ than a Net Revolution (Hofheinz 2011: 28).

My fellow student Julien Figueras, co-author of the blog Beauty is in the digital street, comments on the lecture of Marco Skoric, held this month at Malmö University, who presented the impact of Facebook on our societies. Julien writes in his blog:

However, visualising it on a simple slideshow made me realise how limited our seemingly free speech can turn when applying an algorithm. […] Facebook might look like a public place, you can login and do a lot of stuff as you would do in public spaces, but you are not the owner of anything that’s around you, and you don’t really get to decide what you have at sight.

In this sense Facebook is criticized by many scholars. The information we access on Facebook depend on what our friends share and if our friends are like-minded or have cross-cutting political opinions (Bakshy et al 2015: 1130). David Lazer demands that we need to „create a new field around the social algorithm, which examines the interplay of social and computational code“ (Lazer 2015: 1090).

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The Facebook algorithm

When we now apply this knowledge to reconciliation processes, it becomes obvious that Facebook is no tool that can be used for peace-making. In order to reconcile, people need to develop mutual understanding as well as tolerance and they have to to engage in critical reflexion and dialogue with the opposed group. But this is a process that cannot be achieved if you are always exposed to to the same strong opinions. During the „European refugees crisis“ of 2015, Facebook has sharply been criticized by politicians to enforce strong opinions and encourage racism, for example, through allowing hate-messages and not offering a dislike-button in order to show openly when you disagree with a message.

On Parlio you can choose topics you are interested in, for example Politics, Social Issues, Psychology, Public Policy or Business. The discussions of the categories you choose appear in your newsfeed. (Nonetheless, nothing is known about the order of appearance or algorithm.) You also have the possibility to engage in critical debates with scientists or politicians to discuss the topics you are interested in. You can always stay updated by saving these discussions in a bookmark. The rest is pretty much the same as on Facebook: Users have the option to „upvote“ articles they like, comment or share them but you cannot „disagree“ for example.

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Parlio – Question and Answers with scholars

Even though, in my opinion Parlio is a more democratic tool than Facebook because it is designed to open up controversial discussions and not just posting quick and imprudent statements, which are only meant to enforce conflicts. „A community for the curious, civil and open-minded“, titles Parlio’s slogan, which implies a wish for more dialogue and less violence.

Best et al. argue that the practice of dialogue and communication are important to deal with conflict. According to them „prejudice and conflict can be reduced through „good contact“ which is regular, balanced, and equal“ (Best et al 2011: 235). Parlio pretends to be a social media where such a regular, balanced and equal discussion can take place. Parlio is for free so that everybody who is interested can join the community, disregarding his/her financial status.

The idea is great. However, Parlio’s community is very elitist. The exchange takes place among people who are interested in social and political issues and who speak English. Besides, next to your picture and your name, Parlio presents your work place or University. So, you get „tagged“ from the beginning with a social status. In my opinion that hinders the „exchange among equals“ since people are aware of whether you have a university degree or a good workplace, which will automatically introduce a hierarchy in the discussion. People without a job or university degree will feel excluded. Although Parlio is meant to be participatory, the Question and Answer session with authorities or experts have a contrary effect. Parlio has the values to become a tool for social reconciliation but it’s implementation is very idealistic.

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Korean Peace Portfolio – Post on Parlio

Up to now, social media has not been able to become a tool for reconciliation at all. Despite the big portion of NGOs and peace-groups that promote their work on Facebook, their influence has remained small. If their news don’t appear in peoples’ newsfeeds they will never even know about their existence. Parlio is a promising idea, but unless it does not change its design it will stay within a small circle and will not be able to engage the populace.



Bakshy et al (2015): Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinions on Facebook, in: Science, No. 348, p.1130-1132.

Best et al (2011): Rich digital media as a tool in post-conflict truth and reconciliation, in: Media, War and Conflict, No 4, p. 231-249.

Hofheinz, Albrecht (2011): Nextopia? Beyond revolution 2.0, in: Oriente Moderno. Nuova serie, Anno 91, No.1, p. 23-39.

Lazer, David (2015): The rise of the social algorithm, in Science, No. 348, p. 1090-1091.


  1. Queena

    Thank you for a very insightful article. You discuss one of the issues which I find crucial in the reconciliation context – the actual level and extent of influence of the social media services in supporting and triggering social change and peacebuilding procersses. Although, like I mentioned in my last post about the Northern Ireland, some authors believe that the rise of social media is a chance for boosting democratic participation (Dalhgren, 2006), I agree with you that – at this point – it is safe to say they failed to play an important role, often even contributing to social and ideological divisions.

    But how can social media services and users become more inclusive and open to long term social change, when there seem to be very little or no place for alternative narratives, even among, let’s say, bloggers working in a development field? Denskus and Esser (2013) discuss how online activites during huge development conferences like 2010 MGD summit demonstate the marginal role of social media in shaping global democratic participation. Reporting from such event through social media is often limited to a purely informative role and demonstrates how the undeniable potenial of those channels is wasted for the sake of operating within „ritually structured” (Densus & Esser, 2013) accepted conventions, with very little critical and/or participatory engagement.
    The very concept of Parlio as a platform for the critical and stimulating exchange of ideas is noble and innovative, your analysis shows that, although in a different („elitist”) context, it still duplicates the same mistakes.
    All in all, I think that, especially in the reconciliation context, the necessity of more inclusive tools is essential. Unfortunately, services like Facebook or even Parlio (so far, like you said), still play the undesirable role in maintaning status quo.


    Dalhgren, P. (2006) Civic participation and practices: beyond “deliberative democracy”. In: Carpentier, N., Pruulman-Vengerfeldt, P., Nordenstreng, K., Hartmann, M. and Cammaerts, B. (Eds.) Researching Media, Democracy and Participation. Tartu: Tartu University Press
    Denskus, T., Esser, D. 2013: Social Media and Global Development Rituals: a content analysis of blogs and tweets on the 2010 MDG Summit, Third World Quarterly 34: 409-424

  2. Laura Saxer

    Your interesting discussion about social media as a tool for reconciliation can be further expanded by the argument that social media’s potential lies in supporting civil society and social change in a long run rather than in short events. Positive changes in a country, here we could think of reconciliation, follow a strong public sphere that as a starting point can be supported by social media. Hence, when you say “up to now, social media has not been able to become a tool for reconciliation at all” could be a matter of time since we might still be lacking long-term perspectives.
    Increased communication possibilities for civil society and accompanied freedom of speech can help societies in their efforts to coordinate themselves and demand social change. Hence, in common approaches access to information through media is often overestimated while social media’s capacity for facilitating local coordination is not acknowledged as much. The difference between mass media and social media is the additional possibility in social media to not only consume and access information, but to produce it.
    We can look at those characteristics of social media in relation to how you present the case of Parlio and that it “pretends to be a social media where such a regular, balanced and equal discussion can take place.” It presents an interesting case of a social media with limited access where we could raise a discussion about its classification as social media or rather as some sort of exclusive media. It would then remain questionable if Parlio could be used in an effective way to foster public debate, to support a public sphere that can contribute to social change, or reconciliation.

    Shirky, C. (2010): The political power of social media technology, the public sphere, and political change, Foreign Affairs, 90: 28.

  3. Good post but I have to admit when I started reading it the first thing that came to mind was the [citation needed] meme. E.g. I didn’t know who Ghonim was or his work. Furthermore, it is true that the social media in question were hyped for the role they would play but we need to keep in mind that they are just businesses that serve as a product. Social media psychology mimic that of the crowd, meaning that people will follow people they like or are intrigued. Noble causes are usually acknowledged with a like and nothing more. Also I have to point out that countries with different cultures will not acknowledge hierarchy based on ascribed status, meaning that a degree from a prestigious university is of little value to that societies compared to an impressive bio e.g. America scores high on Hofstede’s the achievement index.

  4. Milena

    Interesting post covering many topics. I would just add that may be we expect too much from social media? At the end it is the people who should reconcile and if they feel hurt it will be difficult to change that with pure arguments because they also need emotional reconciliation.

  5. Krystle Van Hoof

    I’m not really familiar with the Parlio platform so I found this really interesting. I’ll definitely check it out now. I found your comments about the problematic inclusion of social status to be spot on. I wonder if you would consider writing to the creators of Parlio to make this point. If their goals are as open and democratic as it sounds, they might be open to your comments and suggestions.

    • Tanja Westerhold

      Thanks for your comment, Krystle.
      I haven’t thought about writing them. But it is a good idea. Maybe we can formulate a mail together. If you have checked out the platform, let me know what you think.


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