By Nicolás Tascon Gallardo
On the third day of the Geneva Peace Week, a group of five women from different backgrounds summed up efforts to bring about the conference “Peace in our cities in a time of pandemic: leveraging technology for peace”. For the opening, Rachel Locke, director of Impact Peace and moderator of the event, displayed a brief video explaining what ‘Peace in our Cities’ – a network of 21 cities and 24 partner organizations seeking to halve urban violence by 2030 – is about. Then, the floor was given to Dr. Lisa Schirch, Richard G. Starmann Sr Visiting Professorship Chair in Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, to present her research.
Despite some technical issues, gracefully managed by Ms. Locke, Dr. Schirch was able to tell the audience about her current explorations on how to leverage technology for violence reduction in urban areas, with a focus on the pandemic. In a concise presentation, the audience was shown examples of how social media has been used to counter the effects i5iuof hate speech, fake news and disinformation, exacerbation of racism, xenophobia, domestic and gender violence, among other ills of modernity. Three strategies were successfully employed by authorities in Taiwan, South Africa, Chicago, Spain, Mexico, Nigeria, and Vietnam to achieve this noble goal: gathering digital information for violence prevention, digital ads campaigns to prevent violence, and digital fact-checking along with digital literacy to debunk disinformation.
A question was then raised to Dr. Schirch on the thin line between using social media for addressing violence issues, and propagating it. The expert called media “the tectonic shift”, noticed its capacity to “amplify the harm that can be done”, and, before leaving, stressed the need for people working within the humanitarian and development sector to understand how media works so they can also, aiming for balance, amplify their job.
In the usual GPW events’ format, the conversation was then split into three breakout rooms, for deeper debates. Breakout Room 1 would discuss the dangers and pitfalls of AI and smart cities technologies for reducing urban violence. Breakout Room 2 would tackle the issue of civil society as a champion of accountability. Breakout Room 3 would consider technology as a violence reduction enabler.
With a very engaged audience peaking at around 51 people halfway through the event, the three breakout room moderators Branka Pain (founding director of AI For Peace), Monica Curca (director of Plus Peace), and Jackie Lacroix (analyst at Moonshot), came up with interesting conclusions. First, that technological tools can build peace as easily as they can break war loose, so practitioners need to “be open to look into positive applications while thinking about risks and pitfalls, unintended consequences”. Secondly, that intolerance and polarization must be fought and thus we need creativity to “offer solutions and work together”. And at last, that technology is a tool, but one must stay vigilant to the “underlying social issues or concerns that might be driving the violence”.
After this debriefing session, around fifteen minutes were left for spare conversation before the event came to an end. Ms. Locke encouraged the audience to ask questions to Ms. Pain, Ms. Curca, and Ms. Lacroix. Modern anxieties, book recommendations, general impressions, work experiences and personal feelings soon came afloat, and the conversation was imbued with an informal and intimate air. The public found ground to express its many worries and hopes on the monopoly of data by big corporations, the lack of regulations on the ICT sector, the integration of international human rights standards data privacy issues, and the regaining of power by the public were exchanged through a heartfelt conversation, splendidly led by the three breakout room moderators.
To wrap up, Ms. Pain made a shoutout to ‘Peace in Our Cities’ for their work, promptly echoed by Ms. Locke, who then encouraged the audience to take action against violence, before bidding them good-bye. The event finished at 5.00 p.m sharp.
Geneva Peace Week 2021 will be held between November 1st and 5th covering four thematic tracks: Creating a Climate for Collaboration, Moving beyond Securitization, Harnessing the Digital Sphere for Peace, and Confronting inequalities and advancing inclusion, peace, and SDG16. Find more information and registration links here.