Savir's Corner: The Facebook revolution

facebook logo311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
facebook logo311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen would not have taken place without young people communicating and speaking their minds on Facebook and other social networks. Massive demonstrations would not have occurred without the active Facebook generation, whether in Israel, on Wall Street, at Red Square, Tokyo universities and even Syria.
Facebook has fundamentally changed not only interpersonal communication, for which it was founded by the young Mark Zuckerberg, but also the entire social discourse and social processes.
The purpose of this article is not to analyze the technological or business aspects of the Facebook phenomenon, but rather to answer the basic question – how has and how will Facebook change our lives, as individuals, as societies and as a global community? No one can dispute that Facebook is a modern day superpower, with 800 million active users and control over social data that no intelligence service can match. How is this superpower affecting us? a) In interpersonal relations, it has created more transparent communities; people connect by “sharing” information about their very identities.
As Zuckerberg said, “By giving people the power to share, we are making the world more transparent.”
The cliché of “Let’s have lunch some time...” has been replaced by immediate dialogues on the Internet, regarding mutual interests and values. “Let’s go out” has been replaced by a “friend request.” The average Facebook user has 130 Facebook friends.
The Facebook language is succinct, direct and often humorous – the virtual dialogue creates a different path to friendship and intimacy, without matchmakers, on a fast track with the creation of a common language. As a result, we are all engaged, except for those refusing the innovation, in a much broader framework of interpersonal relations.
Virtual has become the new real.
b) Translating the interpersonal to a global scale – Facebook breaks boundaries and divides between countries, cultures and languages.
Globalization has so far mostly been defined as an economic concept, yet with technology and social network innovations, has become, perhaps even chiefly, a social phenomenon; societies are gradually becoming more similar, as well as more interconnected.
c) These processes have direct bearings on our identities.
The “Facebook Person” is driven by a new sense of empowerment – the individual suddenly has a sense that she/he can affect realities beyond her/his backyard. “Give peace a chance” is no longer just a popular song; with Facebook it can become a potent call to action. The sense of empowerment comes with a greater sense of equality – in the Facebook world there is no hierarchy; as well as with a sense of community, which is not necessarily national.
Stamp collectors, freedom fighters, opera lovers and others simply find each other on the Net. Our new global passport is no longer issued by governments but is our Profile on Facebook.
The Facebook person is affected by the Facebook language, as language has always deeply influenced our cultures and thinking processes. In many cases, the directness and briefness of the language, and its global setting, affect the mindset of the individual, introducing pragmatism, open mindedness, a sense of greater responsibility and power to change. This can be mainly observed among the young, and it is a process, probably a revolutionary one, still at the outset. We might discover with the years, that the Zuckerberg revolution will have no smaller an impact than the Gutenberg revolution.
d) What are the social ramifications of the Facebook revolution? For one, it seems that government has become less relevant, politicians of the old school are passé. In many ways Barack Obama is the first “Facebook president” as he communicates with America intensely over the medium. But most leaders are not there yet. They are used to seeking their consistencies support every few years. They are also used to setting the agenda through traditional media, something which is slowly becoming obsolete. Today, people organize and communicate their views through the Net – and set an agenda which forces leaders to be constantly reactive.
The social discourse, and to a large degree the political one as well, is taking place on the social networks – a kind of modern-day Agora. Examples for this abound, in nearly every country where social media has taken hold: During the protest movement demonstrations in Israel last summer, which were ignited on Facebook, a demonstrator held a sign reading “Walk Like An Egyptian,” alluding to Tahrir Square.
An Egyptian then responded on Facebook: “Meet me at the corner of Tahrir and Rothschild.” A powerful meeting of minds, above the heads of politicians.
As social discourse changes with Facebook, we need to ask ourselves how this phenomenon can influence peace? I firmly believe that in a world with fewer borders, peacemaking and peacebuilding will change fundamentally, as the relations between government and citizens change.
Because of social networks, the vox populi will significantly influence the legitimacy and capability of peacemaking. Postconflict and conflict ridden societies can and must deepen their dialogue now, introducing a broader, ongoing dialogue between societies, taking place online. This is particularly true for the Middle East.
The Arab Spring is deeply rooted in a rejection of poverty, dictatorship and corruption, but could not have erupted without the communication on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube among others.
Is a peace revolution through these networks also possible? I firmly believe so. Some 60 percent of Middle Easterners are under 30. Many millions are daily Facebook users. It is up to them to communicate and up to government to listen and guide.
With this in mind I have created a Facebook-based movement, “YaLa – Young Leaders,” which today has almost 25,000 members from the world and the region – Egyptians, Israelis, Palestinians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Libyans, Iraqis, Algerians, Lebanese, Saudis, Kuwaitis and others.
They talk daily with pragmatism and kinship. Next week, these young leaders have decided to hold the first-ever Facebookbased peace and economic cooperation conference, during which they will adopt an agenda for the future of the Middle East and projects designed for the wellbeing of the young, including technological incubators and a “YaLa Young Leaders Academy” for online courses in governance and leadership skills, provided by leading academic institutes worldwide. This movement and conference are supported by the US administration (which invited young leaders to the White House), the Quartet, the EU, UNESCO, various governments, the leadership of Microsoft, Facebook and CA Technologies, and leaders in the fields of sports and entertainment.
Twenty-five thousand young people coming together for peace and cooperation from all over the Middle East is something that can only happen on Facebook.
The question is no longer whether this technological innovation can affect social and political processes for the better, but how do we as a society (and how do governments), make the best use of it? It is no longer about manipulating public opinion through old media, but how to keep up with it in the face of new media. This is the challenge. This is the beginning of the Facebook revolution.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.