A few weeks ago our young adults met to discuss the ways that social media can contribute to activism and reconciliation.  It was an interesting subject to tackle as many have attributed the past year’s wave of violence to social media and inflammatory rhetoric posted there, and social media is often credited with many actions during the Arab Spring.  Social media is not static, and there are advantages and disadvantages to using it.

Prior to discussing the topic at hand, we broke into small groups to get to know others in the room.  Afterwards, one of our international interns shared that these small group introductions were one of the highlights of the meeting for her, “My partner was a Palestinian woman. I was really happy to hear what she said…By joining Musalaha programs, she started to meet people from various backgrounds. She told me that her world was small before; people she used to come into contact with were quite limited. Through Musalaha programs, however, she started to meet not only Palestinians, but Israelis and volunteers from various countries. It broadened her horizons, and she started to think that she would like to respect others who have different opinions.  It was interesting to hear from her about trusting each other. She said that she hopes others trust her, and she also would like to trust others.” While our meetings are educational, they are also relational, as this brief reflection highlights.

After the small group introductions, we began our topic.  Our speaker specializes in journalism and online activism, and he shared with us his opinions on how we can use social media in peaceful and positive ways.  He first asked us to think of words that come to mind when we hear the words “conflict” and “social media.”  People answered in many different ways, both positive and negative.  The words people associated with “conflict” tended to be “anger” and “hatred,” whereas the words associated with “social media” were often “friendship” and “communication.”

Our speaker highlighted how social media has a lot to do with freedom, which is in stark contrast to conflict, which robs people of their freedom.  This phenomenon makes social media an amazing tool for social change, as it works from the bottom up as opposed to traditional media that is controlled and contrived.  This gives individuals the power to control how their stories and perspectives can be presented to the world.  As such, social media has the power to change and challenge the points of view in a community.

The speaker shared his optimism about the positive impact social media can have, and he explained the strategies people can use to cause others to think about their opinions.  There are many peaceful forms of activism motivated by social media, and it is a forum for hearty debate and discussion.  We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of this mode of interaction.  Social media allows for many different people with similar interests to unite around a subject regardless of where they are coming from.  At the same time, it can be easier to express extreme opinions when we are far away from the interaction, and it can promote violent actions.

The speaker emphasized how we can use social media as a tool for positive change.  Our participants had many questions about how to apply this in their own lives. While some participants felt hesitant to engage in the robust debates and activism in social media, others felt energized and motivated to use this forum for promoting peaceful responses to conflict.  The discussion provided much food for thought, and we continued talking about the issues after the lecture finished.

-Christine, Midori and Daniela (Musalaha interns)