Who ever thought social media could be an International Peacebuilder?
Like many I had used social media as tool for keeping in contact with friends, however over the last few years I’ve come to see its use in a new light and have experienced the great opportunity it provides to create peace in some of the most hostile of locations.
So what is social media? well it can be described as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”(Oxford Dictionary) and some of the most recognised forms of social media include Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Google⁺, Linkedin, WordPress and Instagram.
Connecting social media with peacebuilding
My experience began after I graduated from Ulster University with a Masters Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies in December 2011 and in response to the difficulty of finding employment in my area of study I decided to get proactive and find ways of networking and keeping up to date with developments in peacebuilding.
I had read articles talking about Twitter and its growing power as a communicating tool but I had always viewed it as some sort of geeky tech and something only celebrities used to keep their fans updated. However I thought I’d have nothing to lose by giving it a go and soon I would discover how beneficial it would become. I can remember feeling a little bewildered when I first started using twitter, being confused about the concept of being followed and following and how I was going to engage with users. At times I even felt like I might be just writing to myself, however it didn’t take long before I started gaining followers and exchanged conversations with people in relation to peacebuilding.
To date I’ve gained some 800 followers ranging from individuals and organisations located all over the world whom are involved in Peacebuilding activities and I’ve even had the opportunity to meet two female peacebuilders who follow me at an international peace conference held in Derry city in 2013.
In May 2012 I was introduced to Pax Populi a small peace organisation based in America who support peace in Afghanistan through an online English tutoring programme for Afghan students. Afghanistan had always been my area of interest during my studies so I was happy to offer to become a volunteer.
I offered to help build the organisations profile with a particular focus on using twitter and Facebook as tools to promote its work and develop the organisations communication with an international audience. In a short period we gained new supporters and became connected with people and organisations within Afghanistan which gave us new insight into the challenges within the country which then allowed us to develop peace initiatives in response to these challenges.
For an organisation like Pax Populi which relies on its volunteer to deliver its peace objective, a grassroots engagement strategy using social media has become a vital tool to enable the organisation to reach a large audience. To date social media has provided an effective and economical way to increase peace awareness and connect with people in Afghanistan who may want to join its tutoring program. Because both facebook and twitter also have large youth usage and audience their use becomes a key resource to provide an effective platform to reach a new generation in Afghanistan who want to see peace in their country. To date the organisation has over 1500 followers on facebook and some 700 followers on its twitter accounts and there has also been a rising increase in Afghan program participation and awareness through the active use of these social media platforms.
Social media further shows that there is an untapped wealth of people who want to support peace both in their own community and internationally for example;
In 2013 we even produced two successful social media projects, in March in celebration of Women’s Day we delivered the “Be Inspired” project which highlighted the experiences of women in Afghanistan and their struggle to secure equal rights. And in September delivering the ”Voices for Peace” project, which showcased the work being done by Afghans to build peace and delivered a series of posters featuring people from Afghanistan, Australia, America, Argentina, England, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Nepal, Namibia, Nigeria, and Pakistan which shared their visions for the advancement of peace.
My expectations on the power of social media grows all the time and in late 2013 I was contacted by the Red Elephant Foundation women’s organisation who having seen my advocacy work on twitter, asked me to write a feature about my work and current affair views for their website, something I was extremely honoured to do.
Through networking I’ve also had the opportunity to help others embrace the power of social media and helping to set up and administrate facebook pages for budding peacemakers in Afghanistan most notably a page called ” AfghanistanThroughMyLens” which promotes peace in Afghanistan through photography with pictures taken by Afghan’s themselves. The page has been very successful and attracts over 1400 likes to-date.
For me social media has shown itself to be a powerful tool for the promotion of peace and provided me with the ability to advocate and network in an international arena which is allowing me and other fellow peacebuilders to make a positive difference.
What do you think?