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Cyberactivism for peace: between urgency and reflection

Jordi de Miguel
Jordi de Miguel

Jordi de Miguel

According to the analyst David Ugarte, the terrorist attacks of 11 March 2004 were Spain's "baptism of blood in the Internet Society." Not only did the attacks come about due to a networked organisation and hacking of the public transport and information system -"netwar in its purest form"- but the public also reacted with a new attitude in which confidence in the Internet, its speed and virality led to a social mobilisation which was capable of determining the social climate and election results. Cyberactivism took root among us based on the power of the SMS.

Although projects focusing on the use of new technologies and social networks are as yet scarce, since that time peace NGOs have taken full advantage of the new open forums to disseminate information, collect signatures or carry out mass mailings of complaints to policymakers. Cyberactivism has thus become an effective gateway linking generic emotional and ethical pacifism to a programme for action oriented at political impact, based around various conflicts.

However, we must ask ourselves about the apparent difficulty of squaring the values on which cyberinitiatives are based with the need to understand conflicts and peace processes based on reflection and analysis, without any restrictions in terms of time or space. It is true that many cyberinitiatives fall comfortably within the parameters of "itinerant perception": everything happens quickly, it lacks context and we often leap into action without checking on the depth of the water. So much so, that the more skeptical among us have coined the terms slacktivism and clickactivism to denote this new form of action.

The range of tools and websites include some, like Twitter and Facebook, which can be useful in obtaining and distributing information quickly and massively, creating states of opinion that are more or less ephemeral. In recent weeks, we have witnessed a good example of how the Internet multiplies the culture of peace by disseminating campaigns like the Global Day of Action Against Military Spending (#Gdams) and information about some conflicts that came directly from inside the countries where they were taking place (Cote d'Ivoire). The influence of the Internet's agenda on the traditional media, which is very intense in the case of the use of cluster bombs manufactured in Spain in Libya, is also worth highlighting.

However, the potential of these tools is often reduced to a more or less superfluous exchange of views, between a group of individuals with similar interests that is slightly enlarged thanks to the battering ram of technology. After so much commotion, are we in essence the same people talking about the same thing? How many NGOs working for peace communicate on the Internet with individuals and organisations that do no share their views?

When we talk about tools for cyberaction we should perhaps also include others, such as wikis and blogs, which as well as distributing information, can help us generate collective content and build shared meanings that enable a robust culture of peace which is indeed moving within increasingly complex parameters. Perhaps we should expand the scope of the concept of cyberactivism to include any action with the help of new technologies taken with the aim of transformation, regardless of its speed, ease or eagerness. In any case, it will always be necessary to try and integrate everything within a communication strategy that is also complex which includes the traditional media, and combines various tools, purposes and audiences.

Social networks cannot be seen simply as a way of reaching more people: by using them, agents for peace approach the heart of the values associated with their work, such as horizontality, participation, transparency, democratic management and, above all, dialogue and negotiation. With these tools and others, the important thing is the desire to communicate, both with those sharing our opinions and others. The dialogical nature of social networks means that they require conversation and collaboration, and if we want to promote a culture of peace we cannot behave on the basis of communication models that consider the recipient to be a mere consumer of messages or a sparring partner. The challenge for the peace movement will therefore be to use tools and attitudes to combine the need to mobilise for specific initiatives for peace and the need to foster a complex analysis of conflicts, while being able to discuss and share problems and ideas with the real social base and with a virtual public opinion that is not necessarily in agreement, and which is also engaged in dialogue elsewhere.