Realising the potential of social media as a tool for building peace
Social media can be an enabler of political agency and a positive social connector, but it can also be a driver of polarisation, hate speech and violence. This papers looks at the potential, and challenges, of harnessing social media for building peace.
A lot of time has been invested in understanding social media as a threat, but it can also be harnessed for building peace. How this can be more effectively done is a question of increasing interest to elected officials, donors and peacebuilding practitioners alike.
To answer that question, this paper draws on perspectives from interviews with peacebuilders in Lebanon, Nigeria and the Philippines, and survey responses, as well as the wider literature on the subject.
Potential for peacebuilding
- Social media offers new perspectives in understanding conflict contexts, informing the way interventions are designed. This includes mapping people and conversations, gathering data about conflict dynamics and overcoming traditional programme design challenges.
- It can amplify peaceful voicesand shape the public and political narrative. This includes countering fake news and threat narratives and addressing potential trigger points through rumour management. It can also have a bridging function between local, national and international spheres to mobilise action.
- It can create new spaces for people to connect, coordinate and mobilise around peace. It can act as a vehicle for collective coping, augment traditional dialogue activities, engage people in dialogue who may not ordinarily participate in offline activities and strengthen peace processes.
- Technical skills within peacebuilding organisations.
- Access to infrastructure assessing the impact of social media interventions.
- Access to data, design and safeguarding considerations.
- A lag in social media companies’ uptake of conflict-sensitive approaches.
- A tendency for peacebuilding organisations to rely primarily on social media as an extension of existing (largely communications) work rather than as a vehicle for peacebuilding in and of itself.
- Partnerships between donors, social media companies and peacebuilding organisations.
- Increased support for and emphasis on social media as a public space for positive political dialogue and countering misinformation.
- Investment in a stronger evidence base increased flexibility in design and funding for social media peace-oriented programming.
- The safeguarding of civil society space in regulating the sector.
This work was commissioned before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, but has significant resonance in the current context. In the absence of face-to-face interactions, people are gravitating towards online platforms as a means to connect. There is emerging evidence of rumours on social media relating to COVID-19 that are eroding trust in government and fuelling divisions. The onset of what the UN has described as an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation has once again thrust social media into the spotlight.
Watch our Build Peace 2020 session on social media as a tool for peacebuilding with peacebuilders from Myanmar, Nigeria and the Philippines, where we discussed the findings of the paper.
Peace Perceptions Poll
This report was produced as part of our Peace Perceptions Poll project, which provides information for political leaders and senior policy-makers aspiring to deal with the root causes of conflict.