Geopolitics and the development of ICT create a fertile ground for political campaigns based on fear. An effective response would be to start thinking of technology as more than a just tool to deliver messages.
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By Arik Segal
Many were surprised when the Peace Agreement signed between the Colombian government and the FARC was rejected by the public in a plebiscite. The shock resulted not only because Colombians refused to end a bloody conflict that cost more than 200,000 lives, but also because public opinion polls predicted the opposite outcome. There are many possible causes for rejection of the Peace Agreement. Some include: the inability of the elites to translate the benefits of the agreement to the people, inability to understand the needs and concerns of many Colombians who suffered directly from FARC’s atrocities and a tough campaign by the opposition led by former President Alvaro Uribe.
Colombia is not alone. Other recent referendums and political agreements such as the Brexit, Trump campaign and Israeli elections show similar symptoms. The coarse thread between all those can be described as a situation in which people in real time, decide on their future according to their emotions and not according to reasonable arguments based on linear thinking.
From an international relations perspective, the massive use of social media networks, instant messaging apps along with rise of radical Islamic terrorism, mass immigration and economic uncertainty created a fertile ground for the success of political campaigns based on fear.
Whether the threat is perceived or real, the outcome is the same – majority of the public that is detached from physically feeling potential future benefits that were sought by political, economic and social elites. In the case of Colombia, is might have been easier for people to feel anger at FARC than feel the benefits of “peace”, as for Brits to fear losing their jobs for immigrants, or for Israelis to feel the danger of losing strategic ground in case of withdrawal from the West Bank and risk a “Gaza 2” scenario.
In a 1 on 1 game -emotions beat reason, especially when strong national identity is involved. This however is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 16th century Machiavelli said that for a leader “it is better to be feared than loved”. What has changed since then are the means to deliver emotions through technology. Text, pictures, videos carried through social media today create a much stronger impact than 10 or 20 years ago.
Technology is not the drive but the tool- platform of delivery, therefore a “peaceful” message could also be carried on the same platforms. However, our primal evolutionary instincts thought us that fear is the most powerful motivator since our survival depends on it.
So, how can we use technology in an efficient way to overcome the basic human emotion-reason/fear-hope conundrum? The answer could be by looking at technology as more than simply a tool to deliver messages, but to move beyond the virtual dimension into the physical one.
For many years, security industries have been doing so, by creating drones, battlefield robots and cyber-warfare. “Peace industries” should do the same and use technologies that would use technology as platforms to manage processes and creation of tools. Taking for example the Stuxnet computer virus that was allegedly used to penetrate Iran’s nuclear facilities and damage it. This computer virus had two features that made it unique and highly effective: it was undetectable (in its original version) and it managed to transform into a physical force that destroyed machines-centrifuges.
A challenge for Liberals and peacebuilders would be to take the same model and develop a way in which invisible messages swarm through the web and transform into the physical dimension and create objects that carry peaceful ideas. A place to start would be by looking into the Internet of Things and/or Internet of Everything – ideas and messages that will be built in search engines, business networks, wearables and smart homes. Once a Peaceful idea will be resonant in information, processes, things and people then hope will have a chance to stand against fear.
Arik Segal is the founder and CEO of Segal Conflict Management; he specializes in using technology as a tool in conflict management processes and facilitating online dialogue projects over social media platforms.
Segal Conflict Management is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, comprised of organizations committed to upholding and implementing the Principles of Conflict Transformation.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.