How to fight ‘Facebook terrorists’

The development of technology, the human thirst for reality TV and media greed help perpetuate an intractable conflict.

Is Israel winning the social media war? (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Is Israel winning the social media war?
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The current surge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been characterized by a massive use of social media. Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Twitter all serve as platforms to deliver messages of hate, calls for violent actions and sharing of gruesome pictures or videos from recent attacks.
Smartphones are used to take pictures and videos which are instantly shared in WhatsApp groups, Facebook posts and a few hours later reach headlines of mainstream media. The development of technology, the human thirst for reality TV and media greed help perpetuate an intractable conflict and keep it in a vicious, constantly growing circle.
Social media is not one of the conflict’s causes but its features make it an effective tactical tool. Its applications allow more people to be exposed to more information in almost real time. The audience is not bound by censorship or professional interpretation, leaving the “truth” to be decided according to one’s nationalistic behavior and emotional intelligence.
While each side believes that using social media will help its narrative win out, the net effect on the conflict is negative – the conflict is exacerbated, hate, prejudice and violence increase.
Theoretically, the same social media applications can be used to spread messages of peace and reconciliation, thus promoting security and stability. In reality however, conflict-mitigating content in social media is less in quantity and weak in effectiveness. In times of harsh conflict, those who promote peaceful messages are usually excluded as traitors and unrealistic as the rosy picture they portray irritates the majority that is “living the true struggle.”
Nevertheless, social media can be an effective tool in conflict resolution when the content is monitored and users are taking part in a structured and facilitated process, in smaller groups. When the only measures to deal with destructive content are to “unfriend,” report or delete it, it is up to the social media companies themselves to develop and install conflict mitigation features in social media applications.
Such features should be developed by tech and conflict professionals and be based on dispute resolution principles that will be adapted technologically. Users should first understand the damage their posting or sharing of violent content causes and secondly be prevented from doing so, by limiting their access to it. Internet giants can invest in developing a software that identifies certain keywords or violent footage, and manage its exposure. A good example of such software is Ebay’s Dispute Resolution Center that was created to manage acquisition and transaction disputes.
Ebay’s decision to develop this application is rooted in its own interests. Recognizing that the process of buying and selling goods online will sometimes end up in disputes, it is in the interest of the company to have a mechanism to resolve those. Since Facebook, Twitter and other social media applications still do not have similar effective mechanisms, the implication is that they still do not perceive a business interest in developing one. If moral considerations do not drive them, it will be up to governments to use legal measures which will ensure that social media is not used to enhance and perpetuate conflicts.
The writer is a conflict management expert, he specializes in the use of technology and social media in conflict management.