As social media expert Craig Smith says, Facebook has become a continent on its own, with 1.06 billion monthly active users and 680 million mobile users as of February 2013. Google+ has 343 million active users, Twitter pulls 500 million, and there are 800 YouTube million users generating 4 billion views per day. This shows just how many people’ s lives are influenced by social media and online engagement.
Social media is affecting not only private enterprises, but also governments and policy decision makers, creating a stir that has an impact on the global political arena. People who didn’t use to have access to internet, including those who can’t afford computers or laptops, nowadays are able to connect through devices such as cell phones, According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa now has approximately 650 million mobile phone subscribers, a number that exceeds the United States and European Union, and this signifies an outstanding boom in the growth, use and popularity of new communication technologies in the developing world.
Taking all these factors into account, it becomes imperative that we realize the hidden power of social media and how it can be used to transform societies, individuals and even governments. Social media can help spread peace, encouraging dialogue among people from different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. It can affect perception on ethnicity, change attitudes, and promote tolerance and mutual understanding. Thus it can bridge the divide between ethnic groups that wouldn’t otherwise communicate with one another.
One organisation working within this framework is the MDG Achievement Fund. It helps young people run peace programs and intercultural activities, such as organising multiethnic youth festivals, using social media to promote peace and tolerance, and monitoring and discouraging hate speech in social media.
For example, the MDG-F is funding workshops for young people in the area affected by the conflict between Macedonians and Albanians in 2001. Their ethnic perceptions are still shaped by the divisions that came out of those clashes. The workshops help them to break down cultural barriers, share experiences and socialise with young people from other communities.
Social media can also curb political violence, as in the case of the March 2013 Kenyan elections. Through the social media monitoring technology, developed by iHub in 2013, the Kenyan government was able to foster civic participation, transparency and accountability during the elections. Non-governmental initiatives bolstered the reporting process, while citizens were involved in proactively disseminating information and messages of peace using SMS, Twitter and the internet.
Constitution-building processes can also be affected by social media. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is training Nepalese journalists with the project “Support to Participatory Constitution Building in Nepal”, (in partnership with Equal Access Nepal). The project provides online journalism trainings and discussions on online and social media interactivity.. Through the support of Japan and UNESCO, the project has benefitted a total of 130 journalists from Mid Western, Western and Eastern Regions.
The international global campaign themed “One Billion Rising” is another example that shows the benefits of social media and how it has been effectively used to help put an end to issues such as domestic violence. Mass gatherings were organised in over 200 countries, such as India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and showcased on social media sites with live streaming of the events.
However, there are many instances where social media has stirred conflicts rather than prevented them. What is currently happening in Burma is a clear example of this. The Burmese Monk who self-titled himself the “Burmese Bin Laden” has fuelled racism and hatred on social media forums such as YouTube and Facebook. He has been spreading anti-Muslim sentiment and blaming Middle Eastern forces for providing local Muslims with financial resources, claiming they give Muslims the military and technical ability to savagely attack Buddhists.
However, we cannot ignore the power that social media has to transform nations and its capacity to have a positive impact in conflict areas. For this reason it’s fundamental to invest in those people and organisations who are most affected by conflicts, empowering communities through the use of social media and enabling them to bring positive change. It is the ordinary citizens, the change makers at grassroots level, that are the key to effective action. Engaging them and making them aware of the power of social media is a crucial step in transforming communities and curbing violence.
People only need to watch a news broadcast for five minutes to appreciate just how vast an impact social networking has had on promoting change throughout the world.
Websites such as:
Facebook and Twitter have begun to change not only the way that news is delivered but also how people interact with one another. These websites have quickly become the preferred
medium for individuals and organizations to promote social causes and put pressure on corrupt
and totalitarian governments. Wikileaks, though not a social networking website, makes governments more transparent by exposing classified information. This paper will explore the
benefits of how a new type of website can combine elements of social networking and open-source collaboration (a wiki) in order to better promote peace and security both on a national and global scale.
While it is true that societies need experts in their fields, the most innovative ideas for change do not always come from so-called subject matter experts. Computer programmers should design software and surgeons should perform surgery. I am neither of those things. In a perfect world, I should never be asked to fix the bugs in the latest version of Microsoft Word nor should I be asked to perform a kidney transplant. However, who is to say that a non-computer programmer could not conceive of an easier user-interface for a computer? Who is to say that a non-medical professional couldn’t come up with a better idea for conducting laser surgery? The same principles should apply for peace and security. There will always be a strong need for professional soldiers, peace-makers, and humanitarian workers.
That axiom is probably truer.
- Wiki (n), A website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users; allowing any user to add or edit content now than it has ever been but we should not overlook the power of innovation when it comes to promoting peace and security. Unfortunately, many who make suggestions on how to develop a more peaceful world are often dismissed on the basis that they are not subject matter experts.
It is logical that the most innovative ideas regarding peace and security can best be spread through the use of the internet and mass communication. Nearly 30% of the world’s population has regular access to the internet and these figures are likely to grow as internet technology expands until it eventually reaches market saturation.
- Facebook, the world’s premiere social networking site, has over 500 million users and is also growing exponentially.
- The internet is far from being the panacea for the world’s security related problems. For individuals who wish to influence policies and make the world a safer place, they may stand a better chance if they utilize the power of mass communication and social networks. The Lost Boys I have a vivid memory from my childhood of my father leaving the house late one night to join civil authorities and volunteers in helping to search a local state forest where some children had gone missing.
A dog belonging to one of the boys had apparently gone exploring in
the woods with them but had decided to come back earlier while they continued playing in the
forest. As nightfall approached, the parents of the children grew worried and called the authorities for help.Word soon reached the local radio and news stations and volunteers poured into the state forest near Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
Men came from far and wide with their packs of hunting dogs ready to help out in the search. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts State Police quickly took 2 “World Internet Users and Population Stats”Accessed April 7, 2011 at http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm.
3“Facebook Press Room”, Accessed April 8, 2011 at http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics. charge of the investigation and tried to bar volunteers from going into the woods. As I recall the story from my father and his friend, one man addressed the officer in charge of the search and said in basic terms, “Well, if you don’t want to use my purebred bloodhounds, you should at least let the boy’s dog loose and see what you come up with.” Those words went unheeded. Many of the volunteers then chose to ignore the warnings of the police and decided to venture into the forest regardless. The police, other official agencies, and volunteers searched until the morning for the lost boys.
The authorities used helicopters, all-terrain vehicles, and infrared equipment while the volunteers used just good old fashioned searching.
Sometime during the night a very fortuitous event occurred. The boy’s dog broke from his leash and found the boys huddled behind some large trees.Unfortunately, there was no person at the other end of the leash. The boys were found soon afterwards and they suffered only mild injuries. The police officer in charge of the search later stated to the press that, “the next time we have a case like this, I’ll be sure to assign an officer to follow around the family dog.”
- What do three lost boys, a police chief, and man who trained bloodhounds nearly twenty years ago have to do with security and peace in the digital age? Potentially everything. The man who knew dogs was ignored in favor of more high-tech equipment.
Let us not suggest that the authorities should not have assisted or organized the search and rescue but only that they should not have ignored the sage advice of an outsider looking in on the situation. The man who trained bloodhounds may not have known how to interrogate a suspect or how to make an arrest but he did know how to find people in the woods better than the police.
The same lessons can be applied to help solve certain security and peace related issues that consistently plague us. A man 4 Bob Hoehler, The Boston Globe “Clinging to hope Dartmouth boys recount being lost in swamp,” February 19, 1993.
Sahara Africa might not be a doctor, but he might know how to effectively encourage people to use mosquito nets in sub-Saharan Africa and thereby limit the spread of malaria.
It was not necessary for the man who knew dogs to start his own social network or website dedicated to using bloodhounds and the family dog to find the kids who were lost in the woods.
The situation did not warrant him establishing his own web page nor was that even possible twenty years ago. However, the man who knows how to effectively encourage people to use mosquito nets in sub-Saharan Africa could certainly be more effective if he used certain methods of mass communication and social networking in order to broadcast his message.
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