Blogs & Bullets: Evaluating the Impact of New Media on Conflict

When first starting to examine the use of new and social media in facilitating communication between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the environment of an effective information blockade, I could never have imagined that what started out simply as a personal and professional need would have reached the point it has now. In fact, it has been quite remarkable indeed, or at least in relative terms.

Not only have some civil society organizations noticed the possibilities offered by new online tools as a result, but some have even incorporated them into their own work and recruited some of those who had been involved in the initial stages of that work. Since then, and quite unexpectedly, I have also presented on their use in Romania, Macedonia, Georgia, Chile, and Armenia. Next week is the turn of the United States.

The conference, Blogs & Bullets: Evaluating the Impact of New Media on Conflict at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington D.C., will also feature panels with Global Voices Online co-founder and Harvard University new media guru, Ethan Zuckerman, and others such as Alec Ross, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, on technological solutions to major issues such as sustainable development, human rights and ethnic conflict.


The event, which will also be webcast, is co-sponsored by George Washington University and will take place on 8 July at the US Institute of Peace. It will also be followed by an internal experts working group on a draft report assessing the impact of new media in contentious politics.

The Center of Innovation for Science, Technology, and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace and George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication are hosting a public event exploring the role of new media in contested politics around the world. From Iran to Kenya to Colombia, the impact of new and social media on movements for political and social change has been the subject of much discussion, and controversy.


This event will explore these themes in three panels. In the first morning panel, Alec Ross of the U.S. State Department, Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman, and GWU’s Marc Lynch will engage in a discussion of these topics moderated by USIP’s Sheldon Himelfarb. The second morning panel will feature bloggers and citizen journalists from around the world to offer a ground-view perspective. The final panel will bring together tech firms like Google, eBay, and Facebook to explore their perspectives on new media and conflict. link

Although there are many pitfalls and problems relating to the use of such tools, especially in terms of actual effect as well as possible future concerns about personal security, the topic seems a hot one at present. Last week, for example, I presented on the same subject at the Council of Europe-funded Young Media Makers Preach and Practice Peaceful Journalism in Kobuleti, Georgia.

The subject of the use of new and social media in conflict reporting and related initiatives was also something that formed the basis of two break out sessions I co-led with award winning veteran war correspondent, media consultant and playwright Anne Nelson as well as Global Voices co-founder and former CNN Tokyo and Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon at the Citizen Media Summit in Santiago, Chile in May.

Meanwhile, my own project and the first of its type to cover such issues in the region, Overcoming Negative Stereotypes in the South Caucasus, continues to go from strength to strength especially after some groundbreaking guest entries from an ethnic Azeri refugee from Armenia, a young activist in Armenia, a Letter from Baku, and one from a former military conscript in the Armenian army.





Of course, Global Voices, for which I’m Caucasus Regional Editor, has also continued to monitor developments in this area and that coverage is expected to increase further in the coming months. Global Voices Executive Director Ivan Sigal has also penned a paper, Digital Media in Conflict-Prone Societies, which is a must-read for anyone interested in the topic.

There are also many posts on the use of new online tools in conflict reporting and resolution in the context of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute over Nagorno Karabakh on my Frontline Club blog. The project can be followed on
Twitter @caucasusproject.