George Chang launches political speech platform


Ella Tang

Junior George Chang recently launched SpeakSquare, a social media platform designed for positive political discourse.

Ethan Schlapp, Sports Lead Editor

Like teenagers all around the world this past summer, junior George Chang was just another bored high-schooler stuck inside his room in Taichung City, Taiwan. As the coronavirus continued to cause global mayhem and cultivate an increasingly divisive political atmosphere, Chang decided it was time for a change; he wanted to do something productive in a time of unproductiveness, and in doing so, bring people of different viewpoints together. This is the story of SpeakSquare.

Having noticed a rise in political interest amongst teenagers due to the recent U.S. presidential election, Chang believed now to be the perfect time to finish and unveil his project. And so on Jan. 30, after collaborating with others before choosing to fly solo with this project, Chang’s vision finally became a reality with the launch of SpeakSquare, a platform dedicated to rethinking political debate as solely a free exchange of ideas. To Chang, political debate can often become heated, causing conversation to move away from policy and instead shift toward hostility and spewing insults. SpeakSquare aims to eliminate that personal conflict from political discourse.

“It’s really hard to [have] peaceful political discussions, even among families. And I found that a little troubling because I feel like it’s something that we can discuss. Perhaps the hate comes from misunderstanding––you don’t really know why people support their views,” he said. “So, I wanted to create this website to create more understanding and to have people explain their ideas and have people willing to listen to others.” 

Junior Ryan Israel also spoke about the importance of having open––and peaceful––political discussions. 

“If you don’t [listen to other opinions], then it’s just an echo chamber,” Israel said. “And that’s not a good thing.” Israel has posted and replied several times on SpeakSquare. 

Upper School Political Science teacher Colleen Roche echoed Israel’s statement about creating a climate for open discussions. Although Roche herself is not a website user, she spoke to the general importance of allowing all viewpoints to be heard in political conversations.

“I think it’s important for both the speaker and the listener. It’s important for the speaker because everyone should feel free to express their opinion on political topics–that’s the essence of democracy,” she said. “Second, I think it’s important for the listeners to hear opposing views as well, because if you only ever hear people who agree with you all the time, then you don’t have any new ideas.” 

In the classroom, Roche said she remains committed to allowing students of all opinions to share their viewpoints and tries to refrain from inserting her own opinions into discussions. She added that she will often play devil’s advocate in discussions so that those with differing viewpoints on a topic feel encouraged to speak up and those who adhere to the general consensus have the opportunity to see the issue from a different perspective.

  “One of the things that we teach in the History and Religion Department is to always look at your sources and always seek out multiple sources on any given event,” she said. “So don’t just read things that you agree with, but check out sources of information that may be different for you.” 

Just as Roche attempts to remain neutral when teaching her class, Chang wants to act as a nonpartisan moderator for all topics discussed on his website. These topics include material ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change to gun control. Once signed up, users can choose which of these subtopics to speak about before posting their own statement or a reply to someone else’s thoughts. 

Though Chang relies on the community to follow the values of his website, he also understands that not all users may respect those values of peaceful debate. In the event of hate speech or abusive comments and replies, Chang has set up his system to censor certain words so that they appear as asterisks. Also, though users of the website are not able to see the personal information of other participants, Chang as the owner possesses some the name and email of each user in case a user posts offensive comments or replies.

Although the website is only a little over a month old, Chang already has extensive plans detailing the future of his project, including the installation of a feature that would allow users to post anonymously in the near future.

“It would just reinforce the idea of the website, what the website is founded upon: to attack the idea, not the person,” he said. In other words, an anonymous feature would focus the attention away from the person who stated their opinion and instead more on the beliefs expressed.

Chang noted that though he is currently unable to implement the anonymous feature due to technological issues, he does hope to institute it in the near future. He also stated that as the owner of the website, he would continue to have the name and email of participants in case a user posted a hateful or verbally explicit message.

On top of the anonymous feature, Chang is adamant about increasing overall usage. At the moment the platform sees about 30 members and receives about 20 visits per day. However, Chang wants to up those numbers, especially through Instagram. 

“I just want to keep expanding and [I] hope to reach a bigger audience, beyond the Masters community.” He added, “I hope that Masters is a community that would embrace this project and be the starting crowd in a way.” To start, Chang created an Instagram account for his website and one of Chang’s friends has helped promote his platform on their personal Instagram account.

From the feedback he has received, Chang plans to make even more additions to his developing website, such as broadening the range of discussion topics, creating a community agreement and terms of service for users, and possibly constructing a space where users and Chang himself can post articles they have read. 

Though balancing school work has made it difficult for Chang to put all of his time into SpeakSquare, he remains dedicated to the platform and the potential it holds. In the future, Chang envisions his platform as a company, with a handful of people helping him to moderate and run the website as it expands. Despite the fact that many of his goals lie in the future, he doesn’t want his message to lose its present importance. He remains committed to fostering a culture where all voices can be heard and where people can challenge the idea and not the person. From the moment you first visit the website, Change makes that aim clear. 

Chang said, “There’s a quote I put on the very first welcoming page: ‘I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.’ It’s by Abraham Lincoln.”

*George Chang is a member of the 2020-2021 Tower staff.