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  • Steven Wilson-Beales

Echo Chambers and Emojis: My Notes from Web Summit 2016

Each year, Web Summit attracts digital enthusiasts from around the world, seeking networking opportunities and juicy thought-leader presentations. This year, however, there seemed to be very little of that, from a content maker perspective at least. The 2016 event in Lisbon was heavy over-subscribed (50,000 attendees was the number quoted) and there was a change in style from previous summits – relaxed sofa ‘chats’ with speakers over detailed analysis. When there was a formal presentation you heard yourself muttering ‘thank god for Power Point’ which is, as you all know, a hideous crime.

This year’s Web Summit was also a PR opportunity for the Portuguese government, keen on expanding its healthy start-up culture, especially post-Brexit. Portugal has seen a massive surge of interest recently, marketing itself as one of the last ‘undiscovered’ regions of Europe. This meant that the PR team had a heavy involvement in the event, good for start-ups considering relocating to Portugal, not so interesting for publishers. Web Summit is now based in Lisbon for the next three years.

Brexit and the US Presidential election results featured heavily at the event with discussions around how content makers and technology partners can work together to break through the echo chambers of social media.

Here are some thoughts I took away from the event which I inscribe forthwith:


  1. As mentioned above, there was a huge focus on the role of digital to help the flow of information when it comes to elections (and probably any topic in general). The digital community now accepts that we are all isolated in our own ‘filter bubbles’ where we see our own values and opinions constantly reflected back at us via friends and brands we subscribe to. It was a pity that there weren’t enough content publishers at the event who could have spoken about their approach to serendipity.

  2. There was a awkward moment at one presentation when a Wikileaks representative came under fire for a NYT report that connected its platform with Russian interests. The point being – (a) should there be a moral responsibility when it comes to the freedom of information and (b) Watch the Watcher who purports to be squeaky clean.

  3. ACTION: Content and technology partners will need to work harder together to address the issues we face now. BUT, the main issue is about prejudice, belief and fear. Editorially, you can probably expect a shift towards ‘moral journalism’ – communicating information around how the democratic process works and what you can do to affect change on both local and international issues. Will the older generation accept the challenge as (US) millennials seem to have been doing this already for some time with platforms like Mic and Fusion.

“Lies seem to be more socially shareable than the truth” @JaspJackson #websummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 9, 2016

“Social media is very good at breaking down and disrupting rather than explaining subtle nuance” @JaspJackson #websummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 9, 2016

“There’s not a hack that will fix the disaffection across America” @BradleyTusk #websummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 9, 2016

“We need to be aware of our responsibilities in a democracy and actively seek to understand each other” @AnnMettler #websummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 8, 2016

“People actively filter out what they don’t agree with” #filterbubbles #websummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 8, 2016


  1. Buzzword! Buzzword! Alexis Ohanian from Reddit gave a fantastic presentation on how he created the company, complete with cat and dog gifs.

  2. He heavily emphasised the need to be real as a platform, publisher and individual – pointing to the strong communities on the Reddit built up around a whole host of topics. The more a community feels safe, the more they will invest more of themselves.

  3. ‘Authenticity’ is a worded banded around a lot but he really seemed to underline the point that we should be less polished and more honest in our relationships across social media. ‘Be Bolder and Braver’ was the jist of what he was saying.

“For the last ten years we’ve been very unsocial on social media producing the best version of ourselves.” @alexisohanian #websummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 9, 2016

“The future of social is honesty, passion and depth. No filters” @alexisohanian #WebSummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 9, 2016

“Be real and be authentic and you will be successful” @alexisohanian #WebSummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 9, 2016


  1. There an interesting discussion with Shane Snow (Contently) and Jonathan Hunt (Vox Media) on millennials and media consumption. They emphasised the face that, due to the highly visual nature of what was shared most via social, language is no longer a barrier to understanding between countries. Millennials are more connected than ever before to a Global audience, which they carry around in their pocket every day.

  2. A meme is really a story and we build empathy and relationships through storytelling

  3. ‘Millennials’ is a misleading label – it disguises the fact that there are many different races, interests, affinities all communicating with each other.

  4. The ‘Russian Dollhouse’: The challenge for branded content in the social space is a) often the source of the content (the sponsor) is difficult to see in a Facebook post and b) Millennials are not really interested in finding/verifying the source of a story, they are more interested in the story. Potentially, not very reassuring for sponsors trying to get brand exposure via social media.

In Summary

  1. Even though there were a lack of formal presentations, there was plenty of thought-provoking comments and insights into various platforms (Bitmoji anyone?)

  2. Over and above the key thoughts above, I’ve taken away the sense that, for young (Portuguese) millennials, technology is not a ‘object/thing’- it means empowerment, community, liberation, enablement. How connected are we with this spirit of innovation in general?

  3. Also to note: the criticism surrounding social media and ‘filter bubbles’ masks a deeper problem – people are just naturally selfish. This should be the starting point for any ‘solution’ before drilling into technological solutions.

New media has always had its critics @davidschneider #WebSummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 8, 2016

Perhaps, the solution lies in more honest, open and respectful conversations.

And emojis…

The history of emoji #websummit — Steven Wilson-Beales (@stevewbeales) November 8, 2016


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