Take this message to my brother
You will find him everywhere
Wherever people live together
- Michael McDonald (1976)
In a world pulsating with conflict large and small, from the streets of Ferguson to Kobani and beyond, there is a need for calming voices. There is a need for voices to soothe the anger and facilitate meaningful conversations across the communities in conflict. Philosophers of the Enlightenment wrote at length that rational discourse is the surest route to good policy and the avoidance of violence. Yet, at many turns, emotions trumped rationality, yielding conflict anyway. The trick in difficult times is to speak to emotions in a way that calms and allows the conversation to become rational.
In the age of social media, the voices of anger and extremism have a new megaphone. ISIS, as I wrote this past summer, has developed an application that corrals thousands of its supporters Facebook and Twitter accounts to simultaneously post its extremist messages. Its ability to create instant trending topics across social media has been at the heart of its recruitment strategy. The amplitude of ISIS's messages and the relative quiet of more moderating voices on social media prompted Queen Rania of Jordan to warn that ISIS is "hijacking" the Arab world to "drag it back to the Dark Ages."
As I did last summer, Queen Rania recently called on Arabs and Muslims to "create a new narrative and broadcast it to the world. Because if we don't decide what our identity is and what our legacy will be the extremists will do it for us."
Creating a public narrative focused away from the extremist message, creating dialogue across communities, is the key to resolving conflict, according to Pope Frances. The importance of dialogue cannot be stressed enough, whether we are talking about the "clash of civilizations" in the Middle East or the escalating racial tension in America.
Social media offers an amazing set of channels for facilitating dialogue across cultures, across great geographical divides and across gaps of time. Participants in this conversation do not have to be standing next to each other. They can be half a world apart. They can be half a day apart.
But the conversation on social media must include the rising voices of calmness. This is necessary for the voices of conflict resolution to be heard over the voices of anger and extremism. And these voices must be heard ACROSS the conflicts of the world. As Harald Katzmair has argued, we need bridging stories to break out of our echo chambers. We need a deliberate effort to create bridging conversations to start bringing people together in greater understanding of each other.
Takin' it to the Tweets is how we create the beginnings of dialogue among people who may not have the opportunity to talk across conflict lines in person. Twitter, Facebook and other social media provide a safe space to start these conversations.
And perhaps more than face-to-face conversations, social media offers the opportunity for people engaging in dialogue to glimpse deeper into the soul of the person with whom they are conversing. Not only can they see the words of their current conversation, but they can see their history of words, they can see the pictures of their families, they can get a sense of the person on the other end of the Tweet.
It is this window into our lives that we share when we engage with others on social media that makes me optimistic. The power to connect on a meaningful level with others, even others with whom we do not see eye to eye, is the key to resolving conflict at the people level. Governments and ruling bodies may find themselves at odds, but if social media erodes the conflict among the people they serve, eventually the conflict must fade.
But achieving such an outcome is not inevitable. As Queen Rania says, we must step up and share our narrative to overwhelm the narratives offered from the extremes. We must, as Pope Frances says, engage in dialogue to find common ground and common understanding. And as I say, let's take it to the Tweets.