Constitution-building: We've seen efforts to use social media in transitional nations like Egypt to help create constitutions with public input. It wasn't very successful in Egypt, but there, as in Morocco and Iceland, to provide two more examples, the experience has allowed communities to learn about crowd-sourcing. That process will certainly continue.
Protesting violence: By now, many have heard of the 2008 Facebook campaign "A Million Voices Against the FARC," which was used to rally people across Colombia and around the world to protest the violent tactics of the Revolutionary Armed Forces guerilla movement.
These are just a few of the ways that technologies are being adapted and adopted for conflict-mitigation efforts. Success has been mixed, to say the least, for a host of reasons, from the newness of the technologies to the fact that most violent conflict is deeply rooted in complex human dynamics. Addressing the underlying problems of conflict require far more than any single technological tool can deliver, which is why many of the initiatives listed above delivered limited results. Nonetheless, they and other programs offer hope for the future.
At the heart of it all is the unprecedented data that is generated by communication and captured using new digital technologies. We often hear about "Big Data" and read stunning figures about how Facebook receives more than 300 million new photographs every day, YouTube uploads 72 hours of video each minute, and almost unfathomably, in a single year, humans transmit more data than in all previous years combined.
But for those of us working in conflict zones, the real excitement is not about the quantity of data but about the unprecedented insight that this data offers into the human experience. Not only are unprecedented volumes of information about human dynamics and sentiment -- the DNA of conflict, so to speak -- being shared on social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, Tumblr, Google Plus, and YouTube. The technological capabilities to analyze this vast treasure trove of information are also becoming cheaper and more effective. We've already seen, for example, mobile-phone data being used to anticipate large-scale refugee movements, an analysis that can obviously be valuable in saving the lives of people affected by war.
We are still unable to use these kinds of tools and datasets to predict violence before it erupts. As political scientist Jay Ulfelder, part of a team from the U.S. Holocaust Museum working on developing a forecasting model for atrocity prevention, writes: "[W]hen it comes to predicting major political crises like wars, coups, and popular uprisings, there are many plausible predictors for which we don't have any data at all, and much of what we do have is too sparse or too noisy to incorporate into carefully designed forecasting models." Moreover, as many other experts in the field have noted, history teaches us that early response does not necessarily follow early warning. But even with those caveats in mind, it is clear that, by strengthening and expanding our access to information about individuals and communities at risk for violent conflict, technology provides an environment in which, increasingly, both early warning and early action can occur.
Of course, it would be wrong to conclude without acknowledging the extent to which digital media and technology have also been enablers of violent conflict. Hardly a day goes by when we don't see a news story about the use of media and other technologies by al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations for recruitment, for fundraising, for detonating bombs, or for the coordination and execution of attacks like the recent one on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.
But this is really the point -- the untold story of technology and peace: When the Westgate Mall was attacked, the gruesome, boastful Twitter messages of al-Shabab's gunmen rocketed around the world's media. But how many of us heard about Philip Ogola, who tweeted non-stop from Kenya's Red Cross social-media command center, steering help to where it could save lives throughout the violence?
It's time to tell this story loudly, to shine the global limelight on the quiet, PeaceTech revolution.