Protesters famously used social media to mobilise against authoritarian regimes during the Coloured Revolutions and the Arab Spring. But attempts to use technology to prevent deadly outbreaks of violence are less well known. A new book sheds important lights on these efforts, finds Kristen Perrin.
Current discussions of the uses of social media are magnifying the implications of near-instantaneous human interaction. These discussions are often layered – we use social media to discuss both the issues and potential of social media. Therein lies a fascinating marker for our time. Where we recently marvelled at the speed at which information could reach us, we are now examining a more sophisticated set of problems. What impact, for example, does the timing and spread of information have on communities teetering on the brink of violence?
In The Technology of Nonviolence: Social Media and Violence Prevention (MIT Press, 2012) Joseph G. Bock sets out to answer this question, drawing on his extensive experience in humanitarian aid, adding a digital dimension to some of the issues he has tackled in previous publications. I was initially interested but sceptical about how this topic would be addressed, but Bock sets about his analysis in a very organised and functional way. His first two chapters give a straightforward investigation of the theory and application of violence prevention and early warning systems.
He also keeps to the heart of the matter throughout the book: in analysing the technological elements of tracking and preventing violence, we are, he says, really analysing people, leadership, politics and communication. Digital innovations are merely symptoms of larger processes and, Bock emphasises, it is ultimately these processes he is seeking to understand. Bock uses several case studies to examine the ways in which technology has brought change to early-warning systems to prevent violence. (more…)