Digital technologies – electronic tools, software, platforms, systems and devices that help generate, store and transfer data – are playing an increasingly vital role in advancing peacebuilding activities around the world.
Technological innovation has been a powerful democratising force which has opened new avenues and spaces for civic participation and collective action, empowering marginalised voices and enhancing local accountability. Moreover, increased connectivity has led to the development of powerful online communities, who are reshaping the social contract between state and citizenry and are providing key opportunities to build more inclusive and equitable societies.
At the same time, these same technologies are being employed by autocratic states and conflict actors for sophisticated methods of censorship, surveillance and dis/misinformation, which are creating new divisions and inciting violence that can manifest itself offline. Hate speech, recruitment for terrorism, fake news, disinformation campaigns, privacy breaches, and other challenges to peaceful societies are increasingly dominating political and media narratives, reinforcing popular perceptions of technology as untrustworthy and dangerous. This has also led to unhelpful or harmful legislation and regulation around the use of technology that are further exacerbating existing ‘digital divides’ and inhibiting the rights and freedoms of individual users and civil society actors.
In response to these dynamics, the use of technology for peace, otherwise known as ‘peacetech’, has grown in prominence over the last decade and has generated innovative techbased solutions to tackle drivers of conflict and insecurity. In effect, digital technologies provide peacebuilders with user-friendly, efficient and scalable tools that not only improve programming and communications, but can also create alternative infrastructures for peace – challenging dominant conflict narratives and fostering positive communication and social cohesion between conflict groups. Yet despite this progress and growing interest from policymakers and donors, many questions remain and are still being debated around the strategic use of tech for peace.
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, many local people working to build peace turned to technological tools, knowledge and resources to adapt their work in the changed global dynamic.