We Broke Down Social Media to Try and Build Up Humanity
We created Daily Haloha to be a positive collective experience of reflection and connection. At a time when connections are frayed and our spirits dampened, we were struck by how participatory art and story sharing projects could uplift and unite us in a moment of shared humanity. We were inspired by how the ability to express oneself authentically and in the absence of judgment, validation, or debate was liberating, even empowering — whether it was through writing on a chalkboard, putting up a sticky note, or sharing a secret on a postcard. No social network or followers needed. Everything contributed in a public space, anonymously. Everyone’s voice recognized equally.
The idea behind our app was to make it as simple as possible for more and more people to participate in these magic moments. Daily Haloha invites self-reflection and collective discovery by inviting the world to answer one single thought-provoking question each day. In our simple 3-step experience, participants:
1. Reflect and respond to the daily question
2. Connect to another by swapping responses in a chain reaction of anonymous sharing
3. Feel uplifted by perusing reflections from all over the world on the Haloha Wall
Our mission is to rekindle empathy and connection to our shared humanity. Given how important it is for empathy-building to feel heard and to acknowledge to others that they too have been heard, we created response stickers. Our participants select a response sticker to give to the person they randomly received a Haloha from in the swap, creating a warm moment of acknowledgment before participants join the mosaic of humanity on the communal Haloha Wall.
Drawing Hard Lines
With our goal of empathy-building and our model of participatory art projects, we initially established several “red lines” that became our operating principles:
· Our community would always remain anonymous to one another.
· There would be no judgment, approval, or feedback.
· There would be no status, social comparison, or popularity contests.
We would simply unite the world in reflection and sharing using a single daily question and trust that perspective and empathy would follow.
It was readily apparent that our approach was the opposite of social media’s mechanisms. Social media claims to connect people and yet, we believed that for many people, social media was creating distance and separation instead.
Creating something different
As we spoke with people about social media, wellbeing, and connection, we consistently heard stories of the negative feelings that come with comparing one’s whole and complicated private life with everyone else’s selectively chosen and carefully curated public life. People described an uneasy awareness of being trapped in a hamster wheel of social approval and validation propelled by concerns over likes and follows and the pressure to provide the same to others. They also told us that while a lack of social media attention could make them question their self-worth, it was just as devastating to attract the wrong kind of attention: negative comments, endless debate, or even harassment. The general consensus was that the fear of being left out, left behind, or left exposed can make you forget why you wanted to connect in the first place.
And the research is beginning to uncover the shadow side of social media. According to Anna Lomanowska, Research Lead at the Digital Wellness Collective, “while many users gain benefits from connecting on social media, some also experience negative effects that may impact their well-being, including a sense of social isolation, loneliness, and lower self-esteem.”
This was enough for us to double-down on mirroring participatory experiences and to articulate further our points of difference with traditional social media:
· Curiosity instead of Judgment: Social media and its algorithms run on judgment. Daily Haloha removes this rush to judgment — positive or negative — and instead makes space for curiosity about the experiences and perspectives of others.
· Awareness-seeking instead of Approval-seeking: The constant comparison and search for social validation on social media reinforces our differences and highlights our insecurities. Daily Haloha reinforces our individuality and highlights our place in the world.
· Reflecting instead of Reacting: Social media encourages scrolling and reacting on autopilot with rarely a pause to reflect on what we are consuming; let alone how we feel about it. Daily Haloha requires users to look inward before sharing outward.
· Anonymity instead of Status: Social media has status built into it, with the size of participants’ networks determining their visibility and influence. On Daily Haloha, everyone matters, and voices are heard equally and without biases.
Testing our product, and our principles
We felt optimistic that we had created just what the world needed and wanted. But did our beta participants agree? They loved our thought-provoking and sometimes entertaining questions as well as the thought-provoking and sometimes entertaining answers of others. They told us they found new perspective when they connected their own reflections to those of others. One user even described feeling “a greater affection for humanity” from using the app.
But what our beta community didn’t feel was the strong level of connection that they desired. They proposed a specific solution: the ability to send response stickers to the creators of any of the hundreds of Halohas they saw on the Daily Haloha wall, not just the one they received back in the swap.
My immediate response was simply, “No.” This felt like it went against our red lines. It seemed like we might be encouraging feedback which was never the goal. The cautionary tale of social media loomed large. But the requests kept coming so I stopped saying, “No” and started asking “Why?”
And what we heard was beautiful. Our participants told us they would read a reflection from another user and be touched, inspired, grateful, or validated. They wanted to let that user know that what they wrote mattered. Sending that sticker back was a meaningful moment of connection, and they just wanted more of them.
We asked if the possibility of receiving multiple stickers would influence them when considering their own answers. Would this hamper their self-reflection? Would social comparison creep in?
Better to give than to receive
Almost everyone told us that their interest was in giving the stickers and they were unconcerned with receiving them. They wanted to be able to tell more people that they were heard and seen. That they mattered. It was a chance to say “You’re not alone”. And the warmth goes both ways because choosing to send a sticker also means “I’m not alone. I’m here too.”
And that’s the thing about red lines. We drew those lines because we knew that we wanted to be the place where people connected more deeply to themselves and others, and that people were longing for something different than social media. We were right. And we were also wrong.
We learned that in an anonymous collective experience like Daily Haloha, the ability to acknowledge that we’re in this shared experience together is essential to connection. It feels different than the feedback in social media that is designed to keep score and run algorithms. A two-way street was needed, and stickers did the trick.
With the release of Daily Haloha 2.0, our participants are able to send a response sticker to any Haloha on the wall. These stickers are invisible to other users and there is no leaderboard or tally. Nowhere on the Haloha wall are you prompted to respond, it is simply available for the users who feel a moment of connection to another user and want to express it.
And the most used response sticker? “Sending a hug”.
Join us! You can download Daily Haloha here and let us know what you think.