The post I had originally planned to publish before leaving on a plane for Tunis, Tunisia was going to be all The Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES), funded through the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and managed by IIE. Many of you know that I have had the honor of working with IIE on some amazing Networked NGO and social media skills capacity building and train the trainer projects in the Middle East over the last 2-3 years. I have many, many colleagues and friends in that part of the world who are working to support women and NGOs to support a robust civil society or create economic sustainability for women.
Needless to say, I’m sad about what is taking place in the region and disappointed that my trip to Tunisia has been rescheduled.
After reading this insightful post about “hate-filled leaderless swarms ” made me wonder why we are framing what is happening right now in the Middle East as a Social Media for Good vs Social Media For Evil boxing match? The film that lite the tinderbox of protests is disgusting and insulting to a people of Islamic faith and yes social media can accelerate protests and violent responses quickly (as it can accelerate social good.) Why aren’t we talking about nonviolent approaches to resolving conflict? Why aren’t talking about to build more resilient civil society networks that can scale?
There are so many big questions about the connected world we live and how it transforms our society, as this opinion piece from CNN discusses. “When people who were born and raised in dictatorships. They are accustomed to thinking that a government controls its citizens — that a film or documentary cannot be produced without government approval. For decades, this has been the reality of their lives, and they strongly believe that the Western world and its citizens have a similarly controlling relationship between individuals and government.” It also brings up issues about the role of social media and a connected society for delicate diplomacy.
It is also raising questions about censorship on the Internet. Youtube blocked access to the offensive video in two of the countries in turmoil, Egypt and Libya, but did not remove the video from its Web site. The New York Times articles questions what precedent this action might set for governments that wish to control access to content that might inflame their citizens or cause civil unrest. “It depends on whether this is the beginning of a trend or an extremely exceptional response to an extremely exceptional situation,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices, a network of bloggers worldwide, and author of “Consent of the Networked,” a book that addresses free speech in the digital age.” Simon Mainwaring also has an insightful post on this topic and this opinion piece by JillianYork on CNN.
I am asking myself and colleagues who do networked NGO training and social media skill building outside the of US – the question about building resilient networks and how to incorporate non-violent techniques. [here and here] . We don’t have any answers, but we all feel that our work is all the important as is a conversation. It’s a lot of food for thought ….
First a few points from my professional social media and trainer colleagues in the Middle East:
- Khaled Elamad, a social media strategist I met while in Jordan, stress the importance of having empathy for other people’s point of view and that we need to reach to people beyond our own bubble. Many of my professional colleagues in the Middle East that work on women’s issues or with NGOs concur. Ma’ayan Alexander said, “The internet is very “likeable” today, it is much easier to chat and talk with people similar to us that we are “like them”. We need to reach out to people who are different from us: think different, live in different places, hold other political and cultural values so we can know them and what they think. It is very difficult to talk in social networks with people who think the opposite of you.”
- Widad E. Hanafi, AhmEd Hamaza, Chema Gargouri, and Nada Hamzeh who I had the pleasure of working with closely on the e-mediat project shared their ideas – especially a sense that training is so important to building networks. But, not just skills training, but learning to understand the impact of connected society and transformation.
- Amira Achouri, from an NGO in Tunisia, observed, “As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. I believe that social networking can do better by thinking about network structures, understanding roles of people, making organizations more sociable and blending social media. Digital media’s potential for building harmonious civil society is considerable.”
Some big picture thinking:
- Lucy Bernholz, Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, offered her big picture lens. “We need to better understand how we behave and what we expect in digital, connected age.” She mentioned Steven Berlin Johnson’s new book, Future Perfect, offers the idea of “peer progressives” as an emerging way of action that’s fully fluent in the behaviors and expectations of networks. “The “good or evil” discussion, limited as it is, is partly because we’d prefer to blame technology than ourselves. To get beyond it, I think we need – each of us individually and in our networks and professional work – to experience and reflect and get better at the ways living in the digital age is the same as, and different from, the analog age.” [If you are in NYC on September 24th, PDF is hosting an author talk ]
- Lini Srivasta, who has been thinking, writing, and doing projects on these themes, offered this: “We need to have a deeper understanding of the ways in which the reach, speed, and scale of content distribution and the nature of the content can and will continue to affect geopolitical situations. We have a much broader conception of free speech in the US (which is largely a good thing) than elsewhere in the world, but as we continue to grow our digital networks and our capacity for distribution, we have some hard thinking to do about what constitutes inciting speech. This is true both of us as individuals, but also in terms of broader policy. The USIP has been doing some really interesting work looking at this issue around “dangerous speech,” stemming from incitement during the Rwanda genocide. On the point about civil society, you’re right that we have to use this opportunity to think about nonviolent conflict resolution — but the parallel point is we need to use our digital networks to create stronger civil society networks that help reduce conflict in the first place. Co-create narratives with global partners that are based in local voice and respect for local communities, and invest in building networks that aim at community vitality. There will always be hate, violence, and “bad” content, but we have to build resilient networks that can react to it faster, and create enough “positive” content to crowd out the negative.”
Perspective of trainers and capacity builders of networked nonprofits and social media from other places in the world talked about importance of integrating peace building and non-violent approaches.
- Mari Tikkanen, “Anyone can access, produce, distribute, share and discuss through these networks, inevitable that our biggest clashes of cultures/ideas/beliefs will move online, new thought leaders will arise while (some) old power structures will get much savvier at using them for their agendas. It’s really critical to equip those working for human rights and peaceful conflict resolution with skills to put these tools to effective use!”
- Stephanie Rudat, my co-trainer for Tunisia, pointed to a resource that included non-violent tactics for social change. She also pointed out that “People are going to use these channels to do what they want but people like you and I have the devout honor of being in a leadership role on this. We can continue to share more about how people are using digital tools/tactics to promote transparency, engage masses on important topic and enroll those whom are interesting working toward positive evolvement of our world.
I’m very much more committed to the work I’m doing. It isn’t just about social media skill building on the tools, it about becoming networked ngos and building resilient networks and understanding the larger role in creating Civil Society 2.0. That we need to understand our individual behavior in this and have empathy for different points of view and not just hang out in networked silos.
Also, I think events/conferences like the “Social Good Summit” that are using the technology to involve people in conversations about some of these issues, using the technology to scale are important to watch.
What is the role of nonprofits/NGOs in contributing to more resilient networks that can scale to build a stronger civil society?