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Abstract

Online forums pose unique challenges and opportunities for creating equitable public discussions. In this interview, Steven Clift, Executive Director and Founder of E-Democracy.org, shares lessons learned about how to attract new immigrants and refugees to place-based online communities, seeding and facilitating discussions among ethnically diverse residents, and fostering civil discourse. He emphasizes that building a thriving and diverse neighborhood forum online depends on providing spaces where people can discuss community life, exchange free goods, and talk about civic issues in ways that arise organically from people’s everyday concerns, rather than recruiting people to a primarily political forum, which tends to attract privileged residents whose voices often dominate in offline politics. Clift also reflects on the implications for equity of the changing technological landscape for online deliberations, from the rise of Yahoo! Groups to Facebook Groups to commercial neighborhood sites, such as Nextdoor.com. As the Internet becomes integrated into all aspects of everyday life, Clift’s insights can help us to envision how inclusive online forums can be incorporated into many kinds of public engagement.

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