This is the first installment of PeaceTech, a series on FP's new Peace Channel, in collaboration with the U.S. Institute of Peace, that will regularly report on innovative uses of technology to bring security and stability to communities around the world.
While much attention has focused recently on debating the role of social media in high-profile events like the Arab Spring and the war in Syria, a quieter revolution has been happening around the globe. It's a revolution in innovation, information, and communication. And it could have big implications for the lives of people from Colombia to Egypt, Kenya to Afghanistan.
This revolution is in the way technologies are being used at the community level to mitigate causes of violence. It's difficult to think of a single issue in the conflict-management field -- election violence, interethnic hatred, land disputes, gender violence, and so on -- in which there hasn't been an effort to use digital media and technology-enabled networks to inflect the causes of conflict.
The catalyst for this quiet revolution comes down to a single reality that is both commonplace and incredible: For the first time in human history, people everywhere -- including in impoverished conflict zones -- have the ability to take photos, push data, publish text, and send information around the world or down the street with the click of a button. We are all social-media makers now, and the extent to which we see this at work in the peacebuilding field every day cannot be overstated. With well over 6 billion cell-phone subscriptions in the world, and over one-third of the world's population online, we've seen a striking expansion in the tools that peace-builders have at their disposal. Crowd-sourcing, crisis-mapping, micro-blogging -- in less than a decade, these have become essential to analysis and decision support across the entire conflict cycle, from prevention to post-conflict stabilization.
Here are just a few examples from what can be dubbed the "PeaceTech" revolution:
Fostering inter-communal dialogue: In Iraq, there is a strong conflict-resolution curriculum underpinning the SalamShabab.com (Peace Youth) online network, TV program, and Facebook group of about 30,000 active users -- with research showing shifting attitudes about ethnic tolerance among them. There is also a larger, 200,000-member YaLa-Young Leaders network taking shape among Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the Middle East, actively campaigning against violent conflict.
Managing elections: Virtually every election these days includes active monitoring of everything from violence to fraud using a range of social-media platforms. In Kenya and South Sudan, for example, recent referenda were considered successes in terms of violence prevention, and social-media networks were key parts of the civil-society toolkit.
Preventing gang violence: Twitter penetration in Brazil is among the highest on the planet, making it a valuable and much-used platform for individuals and community organizations working on campaigns aimed at fostering citizen security. Similar initiatives on other social networks have also been widely used in Mexico and Colombia.
Preventing resource disputes: Early-warning networks like the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) in sub-Saharan Africa try to leverage social media, along with satellite information and traditional media reports, to prevent conflict over land, water, and other resources.