Hashtags for Peace
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How can the social web foster global compassion and understanding? Hashtags burst the 'filter bubble,' crossing social silos and connecting people in chaotic but sometimes compelling ways. My January ...

How can the social web foster global compassion and understanding? Hashtags burst the 'filter bubble,' crossing social silos and connecting people in chaotic but sometimes compelling ways. My January 26, 2013 presentation at the Rotary International Global Peace Forum held in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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  • Thank you Kenneth, Ed, Liz. Aloha everyone, it is an honor to be here. Technology and social media as pathways to peace? My wife laughed. Fake football girlfriends. Congressmen in their underwear. Silly stuff. Her reaction made me think: how can these tools help or hurt peace?
  • I'll disclose at the outset that I'm biased. I love technology. The language we use to discuss tech-driven change is certainly grand. Ongoing, natural evolution of communication? Revolution. 1B Facebook users. More people with mobile phones than power, running water.
  • Not just hype. It has transformed our world. We can see it around us. Disrupting publishing, but we still read. Disrupting music, but we still crave song and dance. Our day to day lives, at least for many of us, is very different compared to ten years ago.
  • Social media has a whole separate world of hype. Natural to use any technology to connect and interact. FidoNet BBSes? USENET? Compuserve forums? The Well? Ryze? Friendster? Turned consumers into creators. Reader to reporter. Broadcast to conversation.
  • Hype or not, the social web has also changed our world in real ways. Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China... use of these tools are impacting nations. In the U.S.? Pajamahadeen and Rathergate. Howard Dean to Obama. SOPA.
  • Revolution, disruption, transformation are not always peaceful. If all 1B Facebook users "Liked" world peace, we'd still be a long way from having it. What role will technology play in fostering understanding, compassion?
  • I recently had to rethink my own assumptions of what new media would bring. As a media maker, I used to be starry-eyed and idealistic about the "long tail." The idea that a million small things could be as successful as the few big things.
  • If you happened to like knitting, there were teeming communities of knitters to connect with. If you happened to like knitting body parts, there's a blog for that, too.
  • If you crave discussion and conversation about food, it's everywhere on the web. If you deeply believed that everything is better with bacon, there's a podcast just for you.
  • If you think the best way to spread the message of peace is by getting naked with a group of people to spell out messages on the ground with your bodies? There's an international movement waiting for you.
  • Technology makes it possible to find and share your passion for anything with people anywhere in the world. You may feel like the only person in your neighborhood with certain dreams, fears, interests. With technology, you can find someone like you. That's a good thing, right?
  • A couple of years ago a man named Eli Pariser wrote a book and gave a TED talk about "the filter bubble." A "personalized ecosystem of information." A buffet of ideas, all flavors that I love. What's the problem?
  • A "filter bubble" is what fancy computer algorithms build around you to keep you happy and interested. Facebook's "News Feed" and the "Top Stories" view are the most obvious example. You may begin with a healthy mix of opinions and ideas. But Facebook watches what you actually "like."
  • And if you only "like" or click links to or comment on certain topics or points of view?
  • Facebook is able to build a view of your world that agrees with you. Fewer arguments? Affirmation of your principles? What's wrong with that?
  • If your world is made up of people that agree with you, you think your world is the only world. You can easily believe things that are untrue. And you are less prepared for messy reality. Will we be happier? Probably. So long as we don't have to deal with other people.
  • Suddenly my 'long tail' world of infinite possibilities, the idea of a personalized, customized menu of news and entertainment seemed more threatening than promising. Is there anything in this all-encompassing world of social media that can burst these bubbles?
  • One tiny thing might help: the hashtag.
  • I could try to define the hashtag. But reading definitions are death in any presentation.
  • Fortunately, hashtags are everywhere. You can't get away from them. They're on TV, persistent bugs on the screen for news, comedies, dramas, contests.
  • They've made the leap into the real world, on signs, walls, windows.
  • Heck, 'hashtag' was declared the word of the year last year.
  • There's even a story, though likely fake, of a baby being named 'hashtag'. There was a baby named Facebook, though. In Egypt.
  • And don't forget, there's a hashtag for this forum.
  • What's so special about the hashtag? It's simple. It's a word, a topic, a concept. But no one owns it, or controls it. It's a public square, and for better or worse, anyone can visit, and anyone can speak.
  • Excited about the Superbowl? Post about it on Twitter with the hashtag 'superbowl.' Love the Ravens? Love the 49ers? Only watch for the ads? Join the conversation, too. For better or worse, a mix of thoughts about this event can stream through with one click.
  • Not just sports. Anything goes in a hashtag stream, and it can get messy. Gun control. Women's rights. Heady topics with every level of interest and intellect represented. In Egypt, in Tunisia, hashtags were critical to organizing, tracking, and reporting on the movement.
  • The simple hashtag. A nexus. A connecting point. It's abstract. As Burt said, it's indifferent. It works across social circles. Ignores class boundaries. It pops the filter bubble. A little thing. A symbol. To geeks, a label, a bit of metadata. And it's not just Twitter.
  • A better way to illustrate the power of a hashtag, or a tag, is with pictures. On Flickr, you can 'tag' your photos, and see other photos with the same tag. Try 'cat' and get pictures of cats from millions of different photographers.
  • On Pinterest, people share pictures of cats they've found, and even curated galleries of their favorite cat photos.
  • Over on Instagram, hashtags are big. And one of the biggest hashtags is 'catstagram.'
  • My wife loves 'catstagram'. A waterfall of cute cat pictures. What's not to love?
  • But how about the hashtag for family?
  • There are a million different ways to define a family. A million different ways to express the idea of family. The hashtag connects them all. Parents and kids. Sisters and brothers. Yes, pranksters and spammers. But I see families. Families I might disagree with. Families I might not like in real life.
  • How about 'worldpeace'? Something people universally want, but often can't articulate.
  • We have such wonderful new tools of creation, expression, and interaction. We have hashtags to form countless points of connection, based on ideas rather than affiliations. I can see, literally, a million ways to visualize world peace.
  • Cats and the internet have a long and proud history. Is the universal love of cats a path to world peace? Maybe.
  • But my wife helped me see these cute cat photos differently. And I noticed something else. This is one of our cats, Ana Lucia, and you'll see the hastags. Cat. Chat. Neko. Gatto. She learned to use those hashtags from 'catstagram' users in other countries. A way to share her love of something even across languages? It's not world peace, but it's a start.

Hashtags for Peace Presentation Transcript