Some Reflections About Civil Society 2.0 and Why I'm Not On A Plane To Tunisia Right Now | Beth's Blog

Some Reflections About Civil Society 2.0 and Why I’m Not On A Plane To Tunisia Right Now

Networked Nonprofit

The post I had originally planned to publish before leaving on a plane for Tunis, Tunisia was going to be all  The Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES), funded  through the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and managed by IIE.   Many of you know that I have had the honor of working with IIE  on some amazing Networked NGO and social media skills capacity building and train the trainer projects in the Middle East over the last 2-3 years.   I have many, many colleagues and friends in that part of the world who are working to support women and NGOs to support a robust civil society or create economic sustainability for women.

Needless to say, I’m sad about what is taking place in the region and disappointed that my trip to Tunisia has been rescheduled.

After reading this insightful post about “hate-filled leaderless swarms ” made me wonder why we are framing what is  happening right now in the Middle East as a Social Media for Good vs Social Media For Evil boxing match? The film that lite the tinderbox of protests is disgusting and insulting to a people of Islamic faith and yes social media can accelerate protests and violent responses quickly (as it can accelerate social good.) Why aren’t we talking about nonviolent approaches to resolving conflict?  Why aren’t talking about to build more resilient civil society networks that can scale?

There are so many big questions about the connected world we live and how it transforms our society, as this opinion piece from CNN discusses. “When people who were born and raised in dictatorships. They are accustomed to thinking that a government controls its citizens — that a film or documentary cannot be produced without government approval. For decades, this has been the reality of their lives, and they strongly believe that the Western world and its citizens have a similarly controlling relationship between individuals and government.” It also brings up issues about the role of social media and a connected society for delicate diplomacy.

It is also raising questions about censorship on the Internet.   Youtube blocked access to the offensive video in two of the countries in turmoil, Egypt and Libya, but did not remove the video from its Web site.   The New York Times articles questions what precedent this action might set for governments that wish to control access to content that might inflame their citizens or cause civil unrest.   “It depends on whether this is the beginning of a trend or an extremely exceptional response to an extremely exceptional situation,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices, a network of bloggers worldwide, and author of “Consent of the Networked,” a book that addresses free speech in the digital age.” Simon Mainwaring also has an insightful post on this topic and this opinion piece by JillianYork on CNN.

I am asking myself and colleagues who do networked NGO training and social media skill building outside the of US – the question about building resilient networks and how to incorporate non-violent techniques.  [here and here] .    We don’t have any answers, but we all feel that our work is all the important as is a conversation.   It’s a lot of food for thought ….

First a few points from my professional social media and trainer colleagues in the Middle East:

  • Khaled Elamad, a social media strategist I met while in Jordan, stress the importance of having empathy for other people’s point of view and that we need to reach to people beyond our own bubble.    Many of my professional colleagues in the Middle East that work on women’s issues or with NGOs concur.   Ma’ayan Alexander said, “The internet is very “likeable” today, it is much easier to chat and talk with people similar to us that we are “like them”. We need to reach out to people who are different from us: think different, live in different places, hold other political and cultural values so we can know them and what they think. It is very difficult to talk in social networks with people who think the opposite of you.”
  • Widad E. Hanafi, AhmEd Hamaza, Chema Gargouri, and Nada Hamzeh who I had the pleasure of working with closely on the e-mediat project shared their ideas – especially a sense that training is so important to building networks.  But, not just skills training, but learning to understand the impact of connected society and transformation.
  • Amira Achouri, from an NGO in Tunisia, observed, “As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. I believe that social networking can do better by thinking about network structures, understanding roles of people, making organizations more sociable and blending social media. Digital media’s potential for building harmonious civil society is considerable.”

Some big picture thinking:

  • Lucy Bernholz, Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, offered her big picture lens.  “We need to better understand how we behave and what we expect in digital, connected age.”    She mentioned Steven Berlin Johnson’s new book, Future Perfect, offers the idea of “peer progressives” as an emerging way of action that’s fully fluent in the behaviors and expectations of networks.   “The “good or evil” discussion, limited as it is, is partly because we’d prefer to blame technology than ourselves. To get beyond it, I think we need – each of us individually and in our networks and professional work – to experience and reflect and get better at the ways living in the digital age is the same as, and different from, the analog age.” [If you are in NYC on September 24th, PDF is hosting an author talk ]
  • Lini Srivasta, who has been thinking, writing, and doing projects on these themes, offered this:  “We need to have a deeper understanding of the ways in which the reach, speed, and scale of content distribution and the nature of the content can and will continue to affect geopolitical situations. We have a much broader conception of free speech in the US (which is largely a good thing) than elsewhere in the world, but as we continue to grow our digital networks and our capacity for distribution, we have some hard thinking to do about what constitutes inciting speech. This is true both of us as individuals, but also in terms of broader policy. The USIP has been doing some really interesting work looking at this issue around “dangerous speech,” stemming from incitement during the Rwanda genocide.  On the point about civil society, you’re right that we have to use this opportunity to think about nonviolent conflict resolution — but the parallel point is we need to use our digital networks to create stronger civil society networks that help reduce conflict in the first place. Co-create narratives with global partners that are based in local voice and respect for local communities, and invest in building networks that aim at community vitality. There will always be hate, violence, and “bad” content, but we have to build resilient networks that can react to it faster, and create enough “positive” content to crowd out the negative.”

Perspective of trainers and capacity builders of networked nonprofits and social media from other places in the world talked about importance of integrating peace building and non-violent approaches.

  • Mari Tikkanen, “Anyone can access, produce, distribute, share and discuss through these networks, inevitable that our biggest clashes of cultures/ideas/beliefs will move online, new thought leaders will arise while (some) old power structures will get much savvier at using them for their agendas. It’s really critical to equip those working for human rights and peaceful conflict resolution with skills to put these tools to effective use!”
  • Stephanie Rudat, my co-trainer for Tunisia, pointed to a resource that included non-violent tactics for social change.   She also pointed out that “People are going to use these channels to do what they want but people like you and I have the devout honor of being in a leadership role on this. We can continue to share more about how people are using digital tools/tactics to promote transparency, engage masses on important topic and enroll those whom are interesting working toward positive evolvement of our world.

I’m very much more committed to the work I’m doing.  It isn’t just about social media skill building on the tools, it about becoming  networked ngos and building resilient networks and understanding the larger role in creating Civil Society 2.0.  That we need to understand our individual behavior in this and have empathy for different points of view and not just hang out in networked silos.

Also, I think events/conferences like the “Social Good Summit” that are using the technology to involve people in conversations about some of these issues, using the technology to scale are important to watch.

What is the role of nonprofits/NGOs in contributing to more resilient networks that can scale to build a stronger civil society?


19 Responses

  1. Taryn says:

    So well said, Beth. I’m happy you are “safe” here on American soil for a bit… and really appreciate your thoughts on social media as it relates to accelerating social good. I’m glad we’re all trying to find answers to these big questions together!

  2. Anita says:

    I saw this and thought it was a good addition for this discussion:

    ““In September, it was picked up by a few bloggers in Egypt, and it was then picked up by Egyptian television stations which played it again and again, and gave it great prominence, partly because they are television stations using it to make a political point,” Tufekci says.

    “She argues that trying to restrict internet speech is not likely to be effective or possible. Instead, Tufekci says instead greater attention should be placed on thinking about how we design internet sites, communicate with citizens of other countries and try to open channels of dialogue.

    ““The people who like to create these hateful videos, and the people who use it as a pretext for violence are actually not in clash. They’re in a nice mutually enforcing symbiotic relationship …They’re both getting what they want out of it,” Tufekci says. “It’s up to citizens, it’s up to media to try to explain and calm down and create channels of conversation so that the impact of such provocations is less.””

  3. Thanks for mentioning my post, Beth. I agree totally we should be talking about non-violent approaches to resolving conflict and building more resilient civil society networks that can scale. I especially appreciated the comment in your post from Lini Srivasta about “dangerous speech” and the need to build resilient networks that can react to hate, violence, and “bad” content faster and create “positive” content to crowd out the negative.” That was a point I was trying to make, but Ms. Srivasta said it much more eloquently.

    As a former journalist, I do not advocate censorship in any way. That being said, I really think the recent anti-Islam film can be compared to shouting fire in a crowded theater. It mocks Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and seems to have been translated into Arabic and posted to YouTube around the anniversary of 9/11, a provocative act. Your post rightly mentioned that people raised in dictatorships incorrectly think a film cannot be made without government approval. What your post does not mention—and I have not seen much coverage of in newspapers—is that Sunni Muslims believe that visual depictions of all prophets of Islam should be prohibited. See While you and I have probably seen Charlton Heston play Moses in “The Ten Commandments” or Kenneth Colley satire Jesus in “The Life of Brian” and are fine with those depictions, the anti-Islam film’s visual depiction of the prophet Muhammad is another huge reason why it is deeply offensive to many Muslims, a reason lost on many Americans. In decades past, somebody had to get a major publishing house, newspaper, etc. to publish similarly inflammatory work timed in a provocative way and have the rest of the world find out about it. Now that anyone with an Internet connection, multi-lingual language skills, and communications savvy can reach a global audience, I could not agree more that strong networks are urgently needed to counter balance intentionally dangerous speech and images.

    I am finding the current situation sad on so many levels. My fingers are crossed dialogue and non-violence wins out. Thanks again for your post and mention.

  4. Beth says:

    Monica: Thank you sharing your views and for adding to our knowledge about Muslim cultural understanding. I think all of us are going to need to take extra care to understand local contexts.

    Anita: Thank you so much for sharing that post – I was looking for the answer to the question of how the trailer got some attention?

    While sad, this is a great opportunity for discussion.

  5. While I’m sorry that you won’t be visiting Tunisia right now, Beth, a visit once things have simmered down could be perfect timing. I just watched a very good section of Charlie Rose with Bobby Ghosh and Lara Logan that really captured my attention – both are so knowledgeable about what’s going on. Worth watching/sharing:

  6. Beth says:

    Kristine: Thanks for the tip .. will check it out! And good luck with your RSS migration

  7. JD Lasica says:

    Stay safe, Beth. This is a long-term need, and there will be time to take your trip soon.

  8. Please. Every Moslem country teaches hate.
    The fact that most individuals are either ignorant or refuse to acknowledge what goes on on these countries does not make it not true. A few examples:

    Primary education teaches that Jews are horrific and should be murdered

    Rejection of the tiny little country of Israel

    Treatment of women as slaves

    Human trafficking that is widespread

    Center of the drug industry

    Absolute poverty in a sea of wealth

    Beheadings and torture of mon Moslems

    AI please enough with the excuses. Stop making the simple complex. You sound like our state department.

    Yale Wishnick, Ed.D

  9. […] The post I had originally planned to publish before leaving on a plane for Tunis, Tunisia was going to be all  The Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES), funded  through the U.S.  […]

  10. Beth says:

    Yale: Thank you for sharing your views. I prefer not to make sweeping generalizations about people who live in countries different from my own — especially when those generalizations are not respectful. I accept people as people and try to understand different points of view. There are people who hate and teach hate, but I prefer to look for mutual respect and understanding.

  11. With all respect and adimiration, Beth, please find me one – just one – Arab/Moslem leader – in the Middle East that recognizes the legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel. Not, the state of Israel. I dare say you will not find one that will proclaim the legitimacy of the Jewish homeland in the public square.

  12. Stephanie Rudat says:

    Dear Yale,

    Here, we are hopeful for the future and come to this space seeking the wisdom of Beth Kanter as she serves the community with ways digital tools can be used to affect positive change. I’m not sure how your message does anything but promote judgement of a group of people and, in that, I can’t say that intolerance brings anything good to society. I urge you to acknowledge that the propaganda in which you are spreading in your comment could cause further harm and consider communicating a more considerate message of compassion. Together, we elevate the conversation to a solution-focused discourse and turn a terrible situation into a unifying one.

    Thank you.

  13. Please provide evidence to suggest otherwise. Are you
    suggesting that women are not treated as inferiors?

    Are you suggesting that non Moslems can say
    and do anything they choose?

    The propaganda is promoting the view that the Arab world is misunderstood.

    Beth needs to stick to social tech tools and not
    portray Moslem nations as civil in any fashion.

    Cultural relativism was invented by those who believe
    that there is no evil inthis world and Beth is simply providing aid, comfort, and technical assistance to our enemies

  14. Asghar says:

    Dear all,

    Please help these conflict and flood affected widow women and orphan children that they could restore their livelihood. Your generous donations could win a permanent place for this project on global giving website. We have only 14 days left to get donations of people for this project.

  15. Michael says:

    Dear all,

    The mail thread presents the dilemma I face in working with difference. I sense when expressing my unmet needs I am often saying them in a way that comes out of blame or judgement of others. I suppose staying power and the fact that you cannot simply drop out is what makes face more successful in many conflict resolution contexts.Beth thanks for the excellent blog and to all contributors.



  16. Michael says:

    Sorry that shoul read face to face..



  17. Beth says:

    Hi Michael: Thank you for your thoughts. Certainly, online communications – with the loss of body language and nuances of tone can lead to a lot of mis-communication. Do you work with nonprofits?

  18. […] 3. Some Reflections About Civil Society 2.0 and Why I’m Not On A Plane To Tunisia Right Now : Beth Kanter shares good insights on the role of civil society in such a crisis and how non-violent protests can be linked in. […]

  19. Yale: you may have some legitimate complaints of policies of certain Arab governments, but wouldn’t your criticisms be similar to someone outside of the U.S. saying “Americans are warmongers”? Yes, our country has a history of such things, but do the policies of our leaders in Washington really reflect who all of us are?

    I heard a nice quote on the radio today, originally from Mr. Rogers. Maybe there’s a little naivete to it, but there’s also a kernel of truth. Paraphrasing it somewhat: “Even the most despicable among us, if given the chance to share our story, become more likable as people.” Perhaps that’s the solution to the Jewish/Arab conflict – sit down together and share stories with one another ;>