Ethos: Pioneering positive discourse in social media and empowering Gen Z

Explore Ethos, the social platform reshaping online discourse. Founded by Alejandra de Brunner, it fosters positive, meaningful discussions on key social and environmental issues.

19 July 2023

The Ethos Network is a social media platform built to enable meaningful online discourse, particularly social and environmental causes, and to drive positive content. Its 22-year-old founder and CEO, Alejandra de Brunner, created Ethos while at university in 2020, identifying that Gen Z did not have safe online spaces encouraging positive discussions.

“In high-school, I was interested in content recommendation and the algorithms behind it. How we’re fed content affects our ability to have discussions, to progress as people, and to think and learn through online mediums”, says de Brunner.

In 2020, Ethos saw more than 40,000 downloads in a six-week period and is expected to grow to around 800,000 users in 2024.

De Brunner sees social media as a way to communicate when in-person interaction simply isn’t possible, and talks about the shoes or crutches metaphor that inspired her to see the potential in a social network used to enhance the quality of both our online and offline interactions.

Namely, do we use social media platforms as a crutch or a pair of shoes?

“I use Instagram and Snapchat to message friends when they are not in front of me. If they were, we would just talk. Shoes, unlike crutches, enhance our experience of walking.

“I created Ethos to act similarly for our communication. With this technology, we can have more constructive conversations both online and offline. With access to fact-checking, visual data and a new motivation to learn, we could enhance the quality of our face-to-face interactions.”

Alejandra de Brunner, Founder of The Ethos Network

Alejandra de Brunner, CEO and Founder of The Ethos Network

Ethos has since grown and developed responses to the key issues exacerbated by social media today, namely misinformation, poor quality communication, misuse of user data and privacy, and lack of women in tech.

“People aren’t the issue, but the way we've designed the systems where we all interact are. If you can scan whether a post is positive or negative - one of Ethos’ criteria used in order to show someone else the posts - you can change a person's experience on a social network.”

Optimising for positive content

A Guardian poll on the negative consequences of social media found that 60% of Gen Z users take breaks from their social media accounts for mental health reasons. But Ethos’ algorithms drive positive content by encouraging users to invest their time online into quality content rather than “doomscrolling” or luring in larger numbers with clickbait.

The app measures, tracks and optimises for posts that people actually spend time reading, fighting against catchy headlines and short-attention-span type media and instead rewarding meaningful long-form content.

“Once you’re no longer tied to clickbait, there's a lot you can do. We have a much bigger realm of possibilities in the type of discussions on Ethos, but also what we can do for content safety and how we can innovate in terms of misinformation, content, safety.”

It’s well known that the rise of social media has gone hand in hand with a rise in online conflict and the amplification of hate speech and has been exploited by divisive figures using it to drive people apart. Ethos is structured in a way that prevents its misuse and harnesses the power of AI to bring positive interaction between users to the fore.

“Sentiment analysis technology can read posts and tell whether it’s positive or negative and continually learns whether something online is constructive or not”, says de Brunner. She explains that for the team at Ethos, success is users spending 15 minutes engaging with posts, not 15 seconds.

“We're optimising not to get a mass of people watching 10-second videos, but a smaller number of people heavily engaged.”

Ethos doesn’t allow ‘doomscrolling’, the word to describe endlessly scrolling through bad news or negative content on social media, which has been linked to declining mental health in users. To interact with a post on Ethos, you need to open the piece in full, and the content is of an overwhelmingly higher standard than that of platforms known for facilitating doomscrolling.

De Brunner likens the contrast to people who choose to follow a healthy diet versus a junk food diet, with some people staying very loyal to the change, the healthy food lifestyle. “We're focused on longer-term rewards for users rather than the short-term dopamine hit.

“People want to do something productive online rather than wasting energy. You can be wholesome and productive on Tiktok and Instagram, but the odds are against you because you've got this mega algorithm fighting to get you to scroll into the night.”

Women in Tech

Ethos is also reversing negative trends seen in the social media sector through its female-dominated team. Ethos’ Head of Growth, Kiran Hothi, has a strong record in tech herself, having previously worked at Google, LadBible and ITV; and is recognised by Vogue, TechCrunch, and Elle for her social media advocacy of South Asian Women.

Recent events in the social media industry, such as low-brow arguments between the billionaire male owners of mega platforms, have highlighted the sector’s, arguably much-needed, absence of women at the higher levels.

More worryingly, PitchBook data from 2023 found that women-founded startups accounted for just 1.9% of venture capital funds raised, a significant drop from 2.4% in 2021.

De Brunner’s own uphill struggles to be taken seriously only served to instil a stronger desire to see more women in tech succeed.

“Even at school I recall wanting to study STEM and was instead told I should do humanities, but I said “I’m doing physics”. Women are often still today encouraged to go toward humanities instead of the sciences.”

The Ethos Network and the Environment

Climate change is perhaps the biggest concern for the Gen Z population today, facing the daunting prospect of dealing with the environmental catastrophe left for them by previous generations. The topic has been one of the most discussed on Ethos where people have connected over the issue.

With many companies trying to reduce or eliminate their carbon footprint and environmental damage, de Brunner sees environmentalism as an integral part of Ethos.

“Companies now need to have a positive impact on the environment, not just aim for neutral”, she says, “we have a grassroots approach that encompasses partnerships with climate activists, hosting events on climate at universities, and working with NGOs to create informational content for Gen Z about the planet. People share tips and hold each other accountable in a positive setting.”

As Gen Z becomes an increasingly valuable market, their desires for safer online spaces and social media platforms that align with their worldview and concerns will ultimately decide the future of the social media sector.

The Ethos Network is now perfectly poised to take advantage of the opportunities provided, but also to help shape a more conscientious future for online communication and discourse.

If you'd like to find out more about The Ethos Network, please get in touch.

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