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Connecting around differences: Bridge-a-thon set for Sept. 29

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Heath Fogelman, co-founder of Bridges.

In an increasingly siloed world, both in person and online, it can be easy to surround yourself with people who are similar to you. Social circles get smaller as media platforms like Facebook use specific algorithms to show you mostly content you like, or agree with.

Heath Fogelman, co-founder of Bridges, wanted to change that.

He created Bridges, a social media platform with the mission of intentionally connecting people who are different from one another, alongside co-founder Will Cohen. We first met Fogelman at Tampa Bay Start-up Week, where he told the Catalyst about building the platform.

Now, Bridges will be launching the platform and hosting an inaugural Bridge-a-Thon Sept. 29 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Overflow Brewing Company in St. Petersburg.

“The idea behind the Bridge-a-Thon is just to have a defined day and time when as many as people as we can get on there can log on, create accounts and really start talking to people … in real time,” said Heath Fogelman, co-founder of Bridges.

The event will serve as a bridge from the social media platform to the real world. “We’ve always had the idea of getting into physical world events,” said Fogelman.

Although Fogelman said Bridges is currently “very small,” it is growing, and the Bridge-a-Thon will help the platform continue to grow.

Dubbed “a kind of un-Facebook” by The New Yorker, Bridges encourages conversations between users with differences in politics, religion, race, gender, sexuality and more. The platform’s ultimate goal, said Fogelman, is “to foster understanding.”

“We started with five key factors,” Fogelman said. “They are so often used in a negative way to divide people. …We don’t really have a preference for how people are connected and what people are connected about. It’s just a matter of connecting with someone, one-to-one, in a place where you don’t have that audience, and learning to understand them a little better.”

In a deeply polarized political environment, Bridges helps to humanize and establish common ground with those who have opposing views. Fogelman said he wants users to be able to say that users they disagree with have “arrived to that point of view for good, human reasons that are outside of [their] experience … [in order to] soften [users’] edges up on that particular issue.”

Bridges plans on adding ice breakers and casual conversation starters to facilitate “civil dialogue and discourse,” Fogelman said. In addition to the Bridge-a-Thon later this month, there will also be meet-ups in October, November and January at different locations. In the future, Bridges hopes to host meet-ups in other cities.

Fogelman expects the Bridge-a-Thon to greatly increase traffic on the platform. “During [the Bridge-a-Thon], other people will be on this new platform,” he said. “So we’ll be getting a surge of users, presence and engagement during this time period.”

Fogelman encouraged current and future Bridges users to RSVP for Bridge-a-Thon on the Facebook event page, and to dive into the platform.

“[We] let the users use [Bridges] in the way that’s most valuable to them,” Fogelman said. “Join us, log on, come talk to me, let’s have a discourse we can’t have on other platforms. …We invite anyone [who] is interested in having a better dialogue to learn about other people and educate other people about themselves.”

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