Friends from PECOJON invited me to speak at the forum and awarding of winners in the Red Cross Award for Humanitarian Reporting. The forum and contest revolved around humanitarian reporting, about journalism in the midst of conflict.
I was asked to speak on social media, and below are the thoughts that I chose to share, out of many ideas that popped in my head:
Bullet Points on Social Media and Social Conflict
by Tonyo Cruz
Here are various definitions of social media, culled from various sources:
“Social media is a type of online media that expedites conversation as opposed to traditional media, which delivers content but doesn’t allow readers/viewers/listeners to participate in the creation or development of the content.”
“Social media describes the online tools that people use to share content, profiles, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media itself, thus facilitating conversations and interaction online between groups of people. These tools include blogs, message boards, podcasts, micro blogs, lifestreams, bookmarks, networks, communities, wikis, and vlogs.”
“Social Media is the democratization of content and the understanding of the role people play in the process of not only reading and disseminating information, but also how they share and create content for others to participate. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in a conversational format between authors and people.”
But could social media be simply defined as people’s media, as what we have seen in the uprisings in Northern Africa? Is social media a tool for a social good, the attainment of peace and the elimination of the worst acts of violence?
The answer is no.
Like other man-made tools, social media is also an instrument whose use is defined by persons or groups of persons who use them. As such, we see social media for small and big businesses, social media for monetization. The world’s most powerful country and its most powerful military use social media for its own interests, knowing fully well the potential and record of social media of winning the war for hearts and minds. Social media is also about spreading word and attaining support for war, as much as it is being used for the attainment of peace.
From the point of view of the many parties mired in conflicts, they want to influence their compatriots and a considerable number of interested parties among 678,811,640 current total number of users of Facebook.
In the Philippines, we have 23,227,240 Facebook users or more than two-thirds of the estimated 30 million Filipinos who now have regular access to the internet. Even the President is on Facebook.
The chief negotiator of the Philippine government in talks with the National Democratic Front went so far as to claim in a media forum that the burgeoning internet population has rendered armed revolution irrelevant. But of course, the NDF would always point at one of the most popular Facebook apps, FarmVille, as a yet another reflection of the semifeudal, agrarian character of Philippine society.
But kidding aside, social media have big potential roles to play in championing the cause of peace, elimination of violence and the upholding of international humanitarian law in the Philippines. What the government and its opponents, and mainstream media have failed to do, social media could very well make sure is accomplished.
I am referring to spreading the word and raising awareness about international humanitarian law, a phrase that is vague to most Filipinos, including journalists, and thus its efficacy is blunted in this land of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and massacres.
For aside from churning out daily diary-like blog entries and reviews of food and the latest gadgets, Filipino netizens have shown a propensity to dwell into social and political issues. In the last elections, a number of bloggers made history by obtaining media accreditation from the Commission on Elections and helped mount a social media-powered citizens’ coverage of the electoral exercise.
The work of social media to popularizing international humanitarian law, specifically the International Committee of the Red Cross’ summary of the seven basic rules of IHL in armed conflicts should help in no small way in raising public awareness. The Philippines, netizens also Republic 9851 and the GPH-NDF Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and IHL to help propagate and hopefully enforce.
By providing this content and our own thoughts on it, we could hope to inspire conversation from a community of Filipinos in the know of human rights and IHL. This ought to empower citizens with the necessary information and perhaps embolden them to take action, especially in areas where the parties in conflict in the Philippines continue to engage in battle. For the many who stay in the comfort of their homes, schools and offices, they would have at least be led online to such information and reports that may demand their attention and inspire them to take action as well.
Which brings us to the crucial role social media may play in areas of conflict. While we do not wish them harm, social media tools should now be available to the young people living in Muslim Mindanao, and in the guerilla fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army across the Philippines. We hope to see more stories, photos and videos of the lives they live and at times of battle when civility among men often always disappears, no thanks to the barbaric nature of war and the festering martial law military mindsets about murder and mayhem.
Social media has made publishers out of ordinary citizens, and have created an army of correspondents for mainstream media. We could only hope that we see more conflict-related reporting, given the priority accorded by journalists and netizens on much safer, non-controversial and profitable topics. One consolation social media gives the Philippines is that, unlike before when mainstream media alone dictates what the news and commentaries of the day were, social media provides us a wider variety of information sources and provides dissenters with a platform for them to express themselves and speak out.
Social media and conflict
Social media is a positive force for people and groups of people with positive ends. But as a tool, it is also available to forces of war, extreme violence and misinformation. It is also an arena of conflict.
Governments always want a pacified citizenry, unquestioning it’s policies and actions.
Misinformation remains a problem even in social media. The challenge is to use other tools as well to ferret out the truth, and get the most credible sources as possible. The alternative that some regimes propose is abhorrent — imposing control on the flow of information.
Finally, where do we start, or where do we start anew? The ICRC, media organizations and other interested parties such as netizens could launch a social media-powered information campaign on IHL and national laws on the humane conduct of war as content, and from there inspire conversation among dialogue and form the nucleus of a community that’s aware and involved. Content, conversation and community — the three C’s of social media – could also work for journalists and media groups to improve conflict reporting, and to parties in conflict as they talk peace, as in the case of the GPH, NDF and the MILF.
We ought to encourage community journalists and citizen journalists, who make full use of social media, to take on humanitarian reporting, to continue to lay bare the root causes of armed conflicts. Journalists should educate themselves further and help spread correct information. Journalists should encourage citizens to speak out and provide them with as many leads, and local sources. Citizens reporting about what’s happening to them or what they see happening, in a humanitarian angle, through social media ought to be encouraged.
See you on Facebook.