An interview with Sem Houben:
Sem, we are very pleased to be able to talk with you. Waaromkiesjij.nl has been prominently reported on in many Dutch media ranging from NOS to Parool. For the international alumni, can you explain what the concept is about?
Waaromkiesjij.nl is an online platform for political speeddating, launched in the run to the Dutch elections. Our aim is to provide Dutch voters the opportunity to engage in a discussion with a political opponent, i.e. a voter with an opposing political party preference. On the platform one choses the political party he or she favors, and within one minute the user is connected to another user with an opposing political view. Randomly generated political statements then kickstart the discussion. And with one click on the mouse, the user receives a new statement or even a new discussion partner.
That sounds very interesting. How did this idea came about?
We started Waaromkiesjij.nl as we felt from our own personal experience that it is increasingly difficult to find someone that has fundamentally different political ideas. People increasingly live in their own information bubble. On social media this is even more pervasive, where algorithms are ensuring you are only being exposed to ideas and things you already like. This brought us to build a platform that works exactly opposite to this. You are being connected to other users based on differences as opposed to similarities. Furthermore, we wanted to bring the debate to voters as opposed to solely seeing these politicians share their scripted one-liners in televised debates.
So, I believe you are not the only alumnus of AUC involved, right. Can you tell a bit more on which alumni are involved and what their roles are?
Waaromkiesjij.nl is founded by a small group of people, including Ruben Treurniet, Robin de Vogel and myself. There have not been clearly defined roles, but Ruben focussed on having the overall lead, Robin on marketing and myself on press-related issues. However, we quickly expanded into a community of people who helped us out when needed. Alumni Jojanneke Snijders has been very important in that regards as well.
What was it like to bring an idea to the public space with a bunch of friends/alumni?
It was a rollercoaster! The idea to do this emerged in late December – and only after we got some funding – we were able to really start mid-january. Setting up Waaromkiesjij.nl would thus not have been possible without the enormous goodwill we have received from friends, developers, filmmakers & others. Setting up an initiative like this with likeminded people is definitely recommended.
Lastly, any key insights you got from this endeavour that you’d like to share with the other alumni?
The main insight we got is that people are truly curious by nature. It is really possible to breakthrough the status quo, and provide people an outlet to have a positive discussion in these polarizing times.