Northern California’s KQED Public Television has developed an inspiring tool “You Decide”.

You Decide describes itself as an “online devil’s advocate designed to challenge your point of view on current issues.”

The debates are centred on the issues that are facing the candidates and the American voters in the presidential race. The user is asked to answer “yes” or “no” to a question relating to current issues and debates. Whichever way the user answers they are asked to consider the other side through the presentation of facts, figures and alternative arguments. After reading and deliberating, and given the chance of going back and forth in those deliberations, the user is asked for their final vote. This is followed by an opportunity to post comments and thoughts and to participate with others in the discussion area. Sound bites from the presidential candidates are also included.

What I love about this is that it provides both sides of the argument with credible content. It is well researched and it presents actual facts and figures. It is not designed to change your mind, rather it gets you thinking about the topic, exposes the users to alternative points of view and brings together people who have different opinions to talk intelligently about them.

This is a wonderful example of how social media can be used to engage people and encourage dialogue. Too often social media is thought of as being synonymous with social networks or online communities. Collecting congruent people who share similar thoughts and experiences is not going to lead to meaningful dialogue or significant change. It is great to see a shift in the way people are thinking about and using social media.