The Peace Process Will Not be Tweeted

Monica Curca, Global Education Magazine Monica Curca

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Abstract: Of late new media and digital technologies have been instrumental in bringing about social change throughout the world. This article asks if it is possible for new media and digital technologies to also bring peace? Media and communications have a long history in being used as an instrument for peace or a weapon of war. Looking at the historical uses of media and communications to both be an instrument of peace and a weapon of war, the author explains that new media and digital technologies are only a channel to convey a message, yet the message has exponential power when shared and promoted through online social networks. In addition, the article presents several cases of peace campaigns and distills the pros and cons of such initiatives. The author concludes that while online peace campaigns have the ability to render tremendous results, often going “viral,” the end result can be more damaging to the immediate conflict actors. The article serves as a philosophical challenge that is based in conflict transformation theory and behavioral change communications, it seeks to open up a discussion about the ability for social media peace campaigns to bring real sustainable peace to complex conflict situations.

Keywords: new media, conflict, peace, digital technologies, social media, peace campaigns, social change, hate-media, propaganda, peace journalism.


It has been five years since the 2008 Mumbai bombings flared tensions between India and Pakistan; four years since that first tweet went out in the Iranian 2009 “Green (Twitter) Revolution”’ three years since the world shook in despair at the mass destruction and human suffering in the 2010 Haitian Earthquake, two years since the first cries for democracy and equality were tweeted out in the “Arab (Spring) Uprising” began; and one year since the Occupy movement occupied the world’s curiosity but failed to get its full support. These events were unprecedented… all thanks to the potent combination of human determination, democratized communications platforms and an ever-enclosing digital divide.

Even with many vocal academics and on the ground activists contestingi,ii the central role new media and digital technologies have had played in these events, it is undeniable that they have transformed the way we connect, organize and have an impact on our world. Still many agree with Egyptian activist Hossam El-Hamalawy, said in 2008, “The Internet is only a medium and a tool by which we can support our ‘off-line’ activities,” he said. “Our strength will always stem from the fact that we’ll have one foot in the cyberspace, and, more importantly, the other foot will be on the ground.”iii It can also be said that the new tools of communications allow messages to be amplified and communication flows to become increasingly horizontal and democratizing. In addition the huge amounts of shared open-sourced data and consistent interaction between participants has transformed seemingly disconnected peoples into a community.

These new media and digital technologies have also positively contributed to better and more organized humanitarian responses, as in Haiti, where within hours of the earthquake extensive visualizations and data maps were created to assist in saving lives and reconstruction. Activists have been equipped to organize and coordinate protest efforts in Egypt, Tunisia, and Occupy. In addition an important by-product of these new interactions have been the way in which the international community can act as human rights monitors via data posted onto YouTube and other social media platforms.

One substantive effect new technology has had is in a deeper participatory approach to media’s work in conflict contexts. Now the audience for a peace movement is global. Social change and peace movements/campaigns, once considered the dangerous work of local grassroots indigenous activists and civil society, have now transformed into “global crowdfunded-change your Twitter avatar-update your Facebook status-like my page” campaigns. It may be true that the future calls for engaging participants through online, offline and hybrid experiences and perhaps it will be the normative mode in which communication takes place.iv And even if there has been a great shift from a rigid top-down hierarchical approach to social change characterized by an increasing reliance on mobile, inclusive, and interactive tools, where a wealth of information gathered from locals and those outside the traditional development, humanitarian and peacebuilding communities, is this how a peace process should be addressed? Should the peace movement be tweeted? Can peace start as a Facebook status and go viral? Can peace be achieved the same way social change has thru the use of new media and digital technologies? First let us see what social change actually is and how it has actually laid the groundwork for peace to take place.

Social Change

Figure  Rdatavox word cloud Social Change 2013, Global Education MagazineThe word “social change” refers to a progression in society, a paradigm shift forever changing the dynamics of a society and culture. It is a disruption in the current status quo. Social change is usually highly disruptive to a society as it tears apart the structures holding it together. However painful social change is extremely powerful as it usually addresses societal inequalities, repression and power inequality, which often lead to cultural, structural violence and/or direct violence.

Direct violence is conflict in the form of physical harm. Structural violence is the disabilities, disparities and even deaths that result when systems, institutions, or policies meet some people’s need at the expense of others.”v

Cultural violence is a form of violence that is used to justify and sustain direct and structural violence. Formally maintained by top down cultural institutions, i.e. Nazi State, Communist Russia, Apartheid system in South Africa, it is best described as violence that occurs in the symbolic sphere of our existence (symbols, flags, speeches, hymns).vi Cultural violence is the “use of cultural products to justify violence and war”vii; it includes hate speech, religious justification from a holy text or tradition, the use of history, myth or war hero legends to explain and justify direct or structural violence. Johan Galtung, the father of peace and conflict studies has written that the power which cultural violence can have is that it “makes direct and structural violence look or feel ‘right,’ or at least not wrong.”viii

The revolutions of the last few years, have been augmented by new media and digital technologies, addressing each type of violence explained above and yet many citizens in of the countries where revolutions have taken place will deny that peace, security or stability have followed. Of course social change takes time and without it peace can never come. It is impossible to deliberately bring people together who have different interpretations of their common past, groups with different experiences and instead of coercing one group to accept the narrative or interpretation of the other, trying to find ways to create new relationships and develop understandings of the interdependence that shapes them and the future they may share.ix

For peace to stick it has to come from within a society after there has been an awakening. Peace is the internal “dynamic understanding that conflict can move in destructive or constructive directions, but proposes an effort to maximize the achievement of constructive, mutually beneficial processes and outcomes.”x Peacebuilder and peace researcher Lisa Schirch defines peacebuilding as an intervention that “seeks to prevent, reduce, transform, and help people recover from violence in all forms, even structural violence that has not yet led to massive civil unrest. At the same time it empowers conflict actors to foster relationships at all levels that sustain them and their environments.”xi It is creating not only an environment that sustains peace but also a culture that promotes peace; it is an action that supports structures, which strengthen peace so that destructive violence will be avoided.

Media: Weapon of War or Tool for Peace? 

While new media and digital technologies are new innovations, they have long been used to promote conflict and peace and as it has been mentioned above, can be vital tools to mobilize people towards peace. However, media’s role has not always been positive, in some cases it has even been used as a weapon of war and a method to suppress freedoms, and escalate violent conflict. It has often become a sardonic transformational tool encouraging violence.xiiThe “capability of the media to inflame hatreds and promote violence has been relatively well documented from early studies such as the role of radio in Nazi propaganda campaigns to the more recent examples of the Rwandan genocide.”xiii It is a tool used to promote propaganda, voice hate-speech and incite violence as in the case of Milosevic’s call against Bosnian Muslims to Hitler’s propaganda against Jews. More recently in 2011, the Arab Spring often featured Arab leaders, blocking social media platforms or using state media to distort facts on the ground.

Tacit or passive measures by governments or NGOs have also been detrimental. Whether lack of media infrastructure, lack of government support for independent media; each factor has had the capacity to bring about unintended negative consequences (or in some cases very intended) and increase violent conflict. The methods that media and digital technologies have been used to escalate violent conflict can be categorized into hate media, systematic repressive media and regulations, temporary and intentional Internet blackouts, and propaganda.

Hate Media

The radio station Mille Collines in Rwanda, is often cited for its use of hate media and inciting mass atrocities and ethnic violence during the 1994 genocide. Stories have been told of perpetrators holding a machete in one hand and a radio in the other. It is clear that the dissemination of culturally and ethnically violent messages delivered thru mass media was particularly effective. Documented reports have stated that Mille Collines approach began particularly subtle. In fact it was only when the genocide actually erupted that openly racist comments such as “stamp out the cockroaches” were aired. The case of Radio Mille Collines has become a keep example for the international community to the dangers and power of hate-media.xiv

More recently, a TV program was instrumental in inciting violence in Cairo, Egypt. On October 9, 2011, the Maspero Massacre, thugs and government forces killed 27 Copt marchers in supposed retaliation for Copt attack of the Army. Many blamed Egyptian state TV anchors as “During the night, TV anchors urged viewers to go defend the Egyptian army from Coptic “attacks,” leading to attacks on Christians throughout the night.”xv Social media channels such as the online newspaper Ahram Online, bloggers and twitter users first reported.


Freedom of the Press Worldwide 2012, Global Education MagazineSYSTEMATIC REPRESSIVE MEDIA CENSORSHIP AND REGULATIONS

Often where there is greater media openness there is also space for political dissent, advocacy and promotion of peaceful pro-social behaviors. In contrast the map below shows that where there is repressive media censorship policies and regulations such as Iran, Burma, or Somalia then human rights atrocities are common as governments or rebel forces can function with nearly full impunity.

In post-conflict countries such as Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina there has been hot debate on whether media censorship should be used (as it currently is) to curb renewed ethnic tensions and hate-media. For example in 2011 it was reported that in Rwanda, “Editor Agnes Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years, while reporter Saidath Mukakibibi was imprisoned for seven.” According to the BBC, President Paul Kagame “has recently been accused of intolerance and harassing anyone who criticizes him. His government defends its tough media laws, pointing to the role of ‘hate media’ ahead of the 1994 genocide.” xvi

Temporary and International Internet Blackouts 

Free and open media activist Jillian York tells that while the Egyptian Revolution began online through social media platforms; Facebook and Twitter, it soon was hampered by government Internet blackouts. She says

“Egyptians were resourceful in defying the blackout. They took advantage of Small Message Service (SMS or texting) functions on sporadically available mobile telephone networks, and reverted to dial-up Internet connections on unaffected landlines. Their tweets were picked up by international media organizations such as the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian, CNN, and Al Jazeera, and thereby helped ensure that the voice of Egyptians would not be silenced.”xvii

The Internet has become a key factor in elevating the civic voice in the political process, whether for protest, mobilization or elections. Eric Shonfeld, has noted that during the Arab Spring the governments of Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria and Yemen began one by one to shut down social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, so as to try to stop activism and mobilization for protests. Without a channel of communication for citizens to report abuses many people feared the worst.xviii The Syrian government conducted a total communications blackout on November 29th 2012 as the Egyptian government had done in 2011. All Internet communications were completely cut off, perhaps to stop the Rebel factions from using the web to transmit images and videos of the military attacks they claimed the Assad regime had been using on civilians. During the blackout there was great fear of a blood bath as the Assad regime could act with impunity and continue its bombardment of civilians, as no longer would they have the world’s eyes on them and atrocities could not be reported and transmitted to a global audience.


Propaganda is an important weapon of war, usually used by a government to defend its own actions and positions. Journalist Andrew Marshall writes that during the 2008 Cyclone Nargis the Burmese state-run media portrayed a “well-oiled state relief campaign: soldiers unloading relief supplies from helicopters, generals inspecting neat rows of refugee tents.” In response to the offer of foreign assistance (after throwing out every foreign aid worker) the state-run newspaper, “The New Light of Myanmar” widely considered a mouthpiece of the ruling junta said ‘However, they will not rely too much on international assistance and will reconstruct the nation on self-reliance.” xix

New media has not been immune to propaganda; in fact it has fast become the main method of shaping public opinions and thoughts. During the Gaza “Pillar of Defense” conflict, both the Israeli and Palestinian side were making ample use of social media to disseminate propaganda in the form of images such as altered photos or inflammatory cartoons, videos and even meme’s were widely used.

Propaganda Cartoons, Global Education Magazine

Media: Tool for Peace 

Figure  rdatavox word cloud 2013, Global Education Magazine

It has already been mentioned how new media and digital technologies have supported and enabled innovative approaches to building peace like connecting former enemies, augmenting powerless voices or documenting humanitarian crisis, new media. In addition, more recently it has been noted that online peace movement campaigns have been widely used by many groups to promote a culture of peace, facilitate dialog between conflicting sides, and create and supportive environment for peace to flourish.


Media and communications strategies in conflict areas can fall into various categories. xx, xxi,xxii

1. Conflict-sensitive/ peace journalism and peace-promoting citizen media

  • Rudimentary journalism training – works with unskilled, inaccurate, conflict-obsessed, or highly partisan media.

  • Responsible journalism training- training in developing investigative, explanatory and specialist reporting, and well-informed analytical reporting.

  • Transitional journalism development-journalists and media managers decide whom or what is newsworthy, to better inform and encourage reconciliation, often called peace journalism

2. Peace-promoting entertainment media, advertising or social marketing for conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

  • Pro-active media-based intervention – media campaigns or initiatives targeting specific audiences intended to share information, counter hate-propaganda or educate.

  • Intended outcome programming specifically intended to transform attitudes, promote reconciliation and reduce conflict.

Peace Journalism

Peace journalism is the adoption of an agenda for peace, believing it to be the only alternative to the agenda for war, it includes an journalistic analysis of the pre-violence conflict, identifying the different parties and causes of the conflict, in the hope of opening up “unexpected paths” towards dialogue and peacebuilding. Further peace journalism humanizes all sides and actors in a conflict, and documents deceit and suffering on all sides. Peace journalism is most effective when used by professional “traditional” journalists, enabling them to focus on areas, which gives audiences a better grasp of the issues at hand. It also transcends “victim journalism” by devising ways to empower the non-elites to take part in the peace-building process. xxiii Journalists can play a key positive role in conflict, including helping parties communicate when there is a lack direct communication; exploring conflict by carrying messages between parties; educating parties; convening parties; helping to evaluate by assessing possible solutions; acting as enforcers by monitoring agreements; legitimizing by encouraging parties and giving them moral support.

Most media outlets and journalists have either adopted a full online presence or do significant work on the Internet. Whether mainstream media or citizen media, the ability to be online and share information has spread news in a matter of seconds. At the same time, topics, stories and visualizations in the news can be limited by language and costs, not permitting equal access. As COO of Rdatavox , a data visualization non-profit working with ethnic media in the USA, I have seen first hand the effects of this information deficit. It has been our task to equalize the information field and democratize it by training ethnic media journalists in data mining, data visualizations and offering platforms for collaboration with statisticians, cartographers, designers, developers and programmers. Equipping ethnic and minority journalists with tools and skills to maximize the impact of their stories has been transformative to communities. Rdatavox goal is to amplify and augment voices and offer ethnic media audiences more and better information through data visualization. It is not only a training or capacity building for journalists to analyze and understand complex data, but to begin creating a culture of peace by democratizing information and increasing access of tools and opportunities.

Educative-Entertainment Media

The soap opera genre is a powerful way of disseminating educational messages and modeling positive behavior through mass media. “Blood In the Mobiles”, is a documentary feature and social media campaign, which highlights conflict minerals in the Democractic Republic of Congo. As an advocacy campaign, the campaign has been a creative and successful in generating international interest and advocacy.

While these strategies and genres have for sure been used in traditional media outlets, they have also been part of a major paradigm shift within peace movement campaigns towards online social media based campaigns for peace. This shift towards a mostly online presence has generated a whole new genre of armchair activists, sometimes described as clicktivists and slacktivists, where clicking a like button, watching a video, or retweeting has become a “revolutionary” act. Such flurry of new media peace campaigns, have garnered differing results.

A common thread however has been the sheer lack of local engagement within the conflict context. In my research, I have found that most online new-media peace campaigns usually engage a global audience rather than the immediate grassroots individuals and civil society leaders already working towards peace. In some cases this can be due to “benign” reasons such as the great digital divide between local communities suffering from violent conflict, where good infrastructure might be in question and the broadband powered offices of humanitarian and peacebuilding agencies. Even still these dynamics are quickly changing, it seems that it is other reasons, which have resulted in lack of local engagement or relevancy to the conflict. Here are some examples of current campaigns:


Israeli non-profit, The Peace Factory, which has produced the “Israel Loves Iran” campaign which featured “NOT READY TO DIE IN YOUR WAR”, and “I LOVE YOU” Meme campaign. This campaign has some rather interesting elements and also the potential to make real change. Ronny Edry, an Israeli graphic designer organically began this campaign by creating memes for of pictures sent to him by Israelis, Iranians, Palestinians and many more nationalities and posting the images on his facebook page. I like that it features immediate actors within the conflict and also has a powerful message, which attempts to normalize a culture of peace between warring enemies. On the other hand, by choosing to not address any real grievances between Israel and Iran or Palestine, this campaign is limited to those that have not been directly affected by the conflict and therefore who often cannot directly affect real on the ground change. The Peace Factory as recently bought advertisements and banner space on Tel Aviv buses, which feature the memes. The goal is to advertise peace and compel voters in the upcoming elections to choose peace.

Figure Peace Factory Bus and Online Meme Campaign 2013, Global Education Magazine


Figure  Blood Relations Campaign 2010, Global Education Magazine


The Parents Circle Families Forum is a network of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents. In 2010 it released a campaign, which asks Israelis and Palestinians if they would kill someone that shares their blood? The initiative has a video about members of the Forum, going and donating blood together (modeling good behavior) and a place where viewers of website can donate virtual blood. At the time of writing 2,561 people globally have virtually (not real blood to a real enemy) donated blood on the sleek and beautiful prezi like website. This campaign is a good example of a weak call to action that is more of a façade rather than a real peacebuilding intervention.


Figure KONY 2012 Invisible Children Campaign and Save Darfur Campaign, Global Education Magazine


Two campaigns that perhaps have the most global appeal have also been in my opinion the least successful in terms of real indicators for social change. Such as: “how many people were reached had the ability to affect on the ground dynamics? Was the call to action, relevant, timely, and appropriate? Did the campaign do more harm than good? What was the ultimate impact of the campaign for the conflict and so on.

While both campaigns have had tremendous success in social media as they went viral, neither engaged local actors nor proposed interventions that came out of accurate or thorough conflict analysis. Each campaign targeted an audience of American public, rather than a Ugandan or Sudanese one, with a call to action that involved misplaced and inappropriate methods of interventions. Both organizations Invisible Children and Save Darfur focused most energy and finances from the campaign on lobbying the US government to put diplomatic pressure on Sudan and Uganda.

Rather than develop strategies, both KONY 2012 and Save Darfur used tactics to achieve success. Whether clicking like on a Facebook page, wearing a wristband, placing a sticker on a car, painting a suburban garage in Southern California etc. none had any relation to capturing and imprisoning war criminals Joseph Kony or Omar Al-Bashir.


It is true that the power and energy of participation, enabled by mobile and portable computing devices in the hands of every citizen with the ability to surpass containment and censorship can successfully build social change collectives across geographies, enemy lines, languages and cultures where it was impossible.” xxiv But I would also add that for deep and transformative social change that leads to peace a wide net of collectives clicking like buttons and watching videos would never be enough. Further there are many well intentioned and potentially successful peace campaigns on social media like “Peace One Day”, “Beyond Violence”, “Master Peace” and many others not mentioned where the need for collaboration and flow of information between organizations has become just as vital to success as going viral. Unless a peace campaign on social media moves from the virtual to hybrid and face-to-face engagement with conflict actors and co-collaborators for peace, and where the call to action can transform into tangible on the ground results, it cannot succeed. Therefore I would say that in fact the peace movement can be tweeted – it just might not do much towards bringing peace.


i Gladwell, M. (2010, October 4). Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.

ii Morozov, Evgeny (2011). The net delusion: the dark side of Internet freedom. New York: Public Affairs. pp. 180.

iii York, J. (2011, January 27). Free Speech in the Age of Twitter. Retrieved from The Cairo Review of Global Affairs:

iv Search for Common Ground. (2011). Communication for Peacebuilding: Practices, Trends and Challenges. United States Institite of Peace. Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace.

vBratic, V. (2008, November 12). Examining Peace-Oriented Media in Areas of Violent Conflict. International Communication Gazette, 70 (6), pp. 487-501


viiBloh, O. (2010, 1 1). Strategic Communication for Peacebuilding a training guide. Retrieved 11 18, 2011, from Radio PeaceA frica:…/20100315trainingGuideEngFinal.pdf

viiiGaltung, J. (1990). Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27 (3), 291-305.

ix Welch, S. D. (2008). Real Peace, Real Security. Minneapolis, Minnosota: Fortress Press.

x Ibidem.

xi Schirch, L. (2004). The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding. Intercourse, PA: Godd Books.

xii Peacebuilding Initiative. (2009, May 7). Public Information & Media Development: Key Debates & Implementation Challenges. Retrieved October 3, 2011, from PeaceBuilding Initiative:

xiii Allen, T., & Stremlau, N. (2005). Media Policy, Peace and Reconstruction. London: Crisis States Research Centre.

xiv Hieber, L. (1998). Media as Intervention. Track 2, 7 (4), 1.

xv AhramOnline. (2011, October 17). Egyptian TV coverage of Maspero clashes constitutes ‘professional misconduct,’ says minister. Retrieved 12 30, 2011, from Ahram Online:

xvi BBC. (2011, Febuary 4). Rwandan journalists on Umurabyo newspaper sent to jail. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from BBC:

xvii York, J. (2011, January 27). Free Speech in the Age of Twitter. Retrieved from The Cairo Review of Global Affairs:

xviii Shonfeld, E. (2011, January 25). Twitter is Blocked in Egypt Amidst Rising Protests . Retrieved November 28, 2011, from Tech Crunch:

xix Marshall, A. (2008, 5 16). Burma’s Propaganda Machine. Retrieved 11 28, 2011, from Time World:,8599,1807353,00.html#ixzz1f4GyZUrT/

xx Himelfarb, S., & Chabalowski, M. (2008). Media, Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding: Mapping the Edges. USIP. Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace.

xxi Bratic, V., & Schirch, L. (2007). Why and When to Use the Media for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding. Global Partnership For The Prevention of Armed Conflict. An Den Haag: European Centre for Conflict Prevention/Global Secretariat of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.

xxii Howard, R. (2002). An Operational Framework for Media and Peacebuilding. IMPACS – Inistittute for Media, Policy and Civil Society. Vancover: IMPACS.

xxiii Hieber, L., & Botes, J. (2000). Lifeline Media: A Guide to Developing Media Projects in Conflict Situations. Geneva: Media Action International.

xxiv Nishant Shah (December, 2012). Digital News With a Cause Newsletter

This article was published on January 30th: School Day of Non-violence and Peace in Global Education Magazine

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