Virtual Peacebuilding

I recently blogged about PeaceTXT, a project that uses SMS to change attitudes towards conflict and violence. It’s easy to imagine how PeaceTXT could extend to other social media – using Facebook or Twitter to share messages, market peace and continue to change attitudes. The hope is that the actions that follow from this changed attitude will be more peaceful.

What if the actions that followed also took place through social media, on virtual platforms? Can the types of activities that traditional peacebuilding projects carry out be adapted for online implementation? As online connectivity increases, particularly among young people, could we leverage social media and build a model for virtual peacebuilding?

Initiatives to promote personal connections between conflicting groups – with exchange visits, peace markets and joint trainings – are one type of typical peacebuilding intervention. Facebook runs a project that leverages social media to do precisely this. Friends Without Borders has selected four pairs of countries that are at conflict: India-Pakistan, Kosovo-Albania, Israel-Palestine and Turkey-Greece. For each of these, two “Peace Champions” are chosen. They are young people, one from each country, who happen to be friends on Facebook. The Peace Champions encourage others to become friends across conflicting borders, posting videos and sharing their views on peace. [The project also tracks the progress in friendships across these pairs of conflicting nations on this neat page.]

Where meeting one another is not enough, many peacebuilding projects look to facilitate exchanges of good will – statements of appreciation of the other group, their role in society, their values, etc. Although not directly related to peacebuilding, Thank Bank (still in development) aims to create a way to communicate gratitude online. This article suggests that an application like this could be used to change the (allegedly standoffish) character of Bostonians.

Friends Without Borders and Thank Bank are both interisting initiatives leveraging online platforms to build peace. They make it possible to dream of bigger things. If they belonged to a holistic peacebuilding project, both initiatives would be just one component, one activity. Could we devise ways to run all components online? Pre-meetings to vision a peaceful future, forums to initiate discussion, peace conferences and agreements, perhaps even peace dividend projects funded with a Kickstarter / Spacehive model. Perhaps there are some settings where such virtual peacebuilding could reach a broader and more diverse crowd than traditional peacebuilding work.

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