Why this nonprofit is using augmented reality to cut through the divisive noise of social media
October 26, 2022
By Marty Swant
Can a message from the face of a $5 bill improve America’s political discourse? Ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, one organization and a popular social media creator hope a PSA from Abe Lincoln might help.
Last week, the nonprofit Starts With Us debuted a new augmented reality filter on Instagram starring the nation’s 16th president. When people scan a $5 bill using the social media app, they’ll see the animated face of Lincoln reciting a quote that could as easily apply to the 21st century as the 19th: “Our country has become so polarized, so crazed when really it’s compassion and cooperation we crave,” the AR version of Lincoln says. “Whichever way you lean, we can all agree, it starts with us to make the vibes less extreme.”
Founded in December 2021 by Daniel Lubetzsky — the founder and CEO of Kind Snacks — Starts With Us originally invited people to pledge to “stop listening to react and start listening to understand,” and to “stop letting our differences divide us and start letting them develop us.” Lubetzsky — whose father survived the Holocaust — has spent decades working in the Middle East on various diplomatic and business ventures. (In 1994, he founded PeaceWorks, a business that fosters stronger connections between Arab and Israeli communities.) Now, with Starts With Us, the goal is to foster “curiosity, empathy and courage” in the U.S. through content and programming for a range of political affiliations.
“Lincoln is this iconic president for preserving the union, for a legacy of emancipation, for somebody who had evolving views over time that arched towards the more equitable and more just,” said Tom Fishman, CEO of Starts With Us.
With Election Day less than a month away and this campaign cycle’s political ad spending projected to surpass $9 billion , Starts With Us hopes to use AR to cut through the clutter with a message of unity. Since the format is a priority for Meta-owned properties such as Instagram, Fishman — a former Facebook executive — said there’s “no reason we can’t align ourselves with those algorithmic ways and serve them towards a sunnier place.”
The AR filter, developed in collaboration with Karen X. Cheng — a popular creator known for making viral AR content — is part of a plan to get people more engaged in dialogue ahead of the U.S. midterm elections and beyond. In some ways, the filter is meant to be reminiscent of the talking paintings and pictures in Harry Potter. Cheng — who until now hadn’t done anything related to politics — said she tries to create content that’s “positive and useful” rather than anything that triggers anger or clickbait.
“When we know these things, we know that at the end of the day we can create and find formats and stories that move people emotionally, give them insights and allow them to feel like they have something really interesting or smart to share with their friends,” Fishman said.
This isn’t Fishman’s first time trying to foster …read more
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