Anytime news of the Middle East gets too hopeless, turn over to the Peace Factory. The Peace Factory is a non profit organization promoting peace in the Middle East by making connections between people. The Peace Factory team believe that re-humanizing people from either side of the conflict divides in the Middle East is crucial to attaining peace, and that sharing messages about common values is the key to this re-humanizing. Aside from being a breath of fresh air politically (and beautifully designed), the Peace Factory is remarkable because it’s a movement that is growing out of social media. We’re used to political causes and politicians creating Facebook pages; here is a Facebook page that is becoming a movement.
It all started with this Facebook post, which got so much attention that it led to a Facebook page. The page is not only very popular in Israel, Iran and beyond, it has also spawned lots of other pages along the same theme. The most liked are Palestine-Loves-Israel and Israel-Loves-Palestine. And it’s not just about likes. The pages’ main purpose is to post messages of peace (mostly meems, some longer wall posts) from the public, and all the pages get contributions (meems and posts) from a wide variety of people. For those that are really into Facebook interactions, the Peace Factory even has an app that lets you send Peace Factory hearts to your Facebook friends or randomly to someone in the Middle East.
The Peace Factory started on Facebook, but it’s not stopping there. A recent campaign took their initiative from the internet to the streets of Telaviv. The team at the Peace Factory raised money through Indiegogo to print a selection of meems from their page on large, glossy posters. They then bought advertising space on buses in Telaviv. And there it was: marketing for peace between Iran and Israel on the streets of Telaviv.
There is a fair amount of debate about whether people are more or less likely to connect on social media with people who share their political beliefs. The experience of the Peace Factory suggests a reframing of this question. Perhaps the people that are attracted to the Peace Factory share a common set of political beliefs (around the promotion of peace), but their social media interactions don’t only amplify this existing view, they also alter it by putting them in contact with others across a conflict divide that share their values. In this way, the Peace Factory is re-introducing certain values that have been polarized out of a political discourse too bent on highlighting differences.
And it’s not just that. Because the Peace Factory is now implementing projects on the streets, it is showing that the new interactions people are exposed to via social media might also change their actions offline. So does online discourse and “action” (e.g. likes) change offline discourse and action? I don’t know whether people who like the Israel-loves-Iran page also tell their friends about it over dinner, but the successful Indiegogo campaign suggests that at least some of them put their money where their meme is. The Peace Factory’s latest project may go some way to showing whether their social media activities can also influence the ultimate political action: their votes.
The Peace Factory is running another Indiegogo campaign, this time to fund advertising space on buses telling Israelis to vote for peace in the upcoming elections. Can a Facebook campaign become a significant political movement outside party politics? Will these posters affect the discourse of Israeli politicians? Will they affect voters? If the Peace Factory can market peace in the Middle East, I hope we can all learn to do the same elsewhere. Peace, marketed and gone viral.