Media, Technology, and Peacebuilding

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The Power of Media to Build Peace

By Sheldon Himelfarb

Look at your cell phone. Turn on your computer. Check your Facebook page. You are using tools that can build peace.

The pace of innovation in TV, radio, and print applications of media to peacebuilding has accelerated with Internet technology, social networking and mobile telephones.

Part of creating communities that can advance peacebuilding is harnessing the power of the media to draw people together, to promote conflict management and resolution, and to create the public will to change attitudes and behaviors.

Media can be used as a negative force, to foster hatred or incite violence. For example, in Pakistan, a Taliban leader used video via cell phones to call for more suicide bombings.

But media can also be a powerful tool to mobilize people to build peace. In Colombia, a Facebook group drew millions of people into the streets to march against rebel groups that were destroying the country. In Dubai and Detroit, university students signed up for Skype-based intercultural dialogues. In Iran, the opposition movement—the Green Movement—brought protestors out into the street using Twitter to stay ahead of the government crackdown.  In Nigeria, producers used a fast-paced TV and radio drama series to model peaceful problem solving as an alternative to tribal violence.

Young Egyptians gather around a laptop to upload video they shot during the protests again the government of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Photo Credit: Ed Ou/The New York Times)

Video, audio and text accounts of the protests in Egypt in early 2011 posted online and shared through social media networks - as these teenagers are doing in the above photo - created massive support for the movement against the government of former President Hosni Mubarak.

And, of course, we know the powerful role the Internet and new technologies played in all the revolutions that unfolded in 2011 across the Middle East and North Africa from Tunisia to Egypt, from Yemen to Bahrain.

Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear about someone using media in an effort to promote peace or conflict. Modern warfare is as much a battle for public opinion as it is for territory or wealth; media in its many forms has become more powerful than ever before.

So how can we harness this power for a better, safer world?

We can look around the world at conflict zones and support media interventions to deal with violence and to advance peacebuilding. We can use mobile phones in Afghanistan to promote values of tolerance and to counteract the negative hatred and incitement. We can use cell phones in Haiti to map the conflict and to bring together experts to provide better communications during disasters. In Iraq, we are using media to bring together youth to create their own television shows and to be involved in providing powerful peacebuilding messages.

With 200 million-plus blogs, more than 120 million YouTube videos and over 500 million Facebook users worldwide, we know that online social networking is a form of human interaction with enormous impact. We know that media affects the minds and behaviors of young people and that there is evidence showing a connection between violent behavior and children’s increased exposure to violent media.

Media and technology can save lives. Using data from mobile phones we can guide relief workers, map a crisis, respond to violence, and use texts and tweets to help create maps that guide the military, the International Red Cross and other aid agencies.

Learn more about “crowdsourcing” in Haiti on

Watch Salam Shabab, a TV documentary about Iraqi youth from across the country who were brought together to participate in activities aimed at supporting a new and growing community of young Iraqis committed to peacebuilding

Learn more about USIP’s work in media, conflict and peacebuilding

Remember: you are part of a new generation of peacebuilders who have the knowledge and power of technology to make a difference.

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