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Jim Cashel

Jim Cashel

Posted: November 19, 2009 11:32 PM

Can Facebook Promote World Peace?

What's Your Reaction?

When Facebook recently launched its "Peace on Facebook" section, many were puzzled: Why would a site which initially catered to college freshmen have the gumption to identify itself with world peace?

But a closer look suggests Facebook is onto something beguiling. Despite the "version 1.0" feel of the site, there are two remarkable components. First, Facebook presents information regarding friendships crossing national, religious and political boundaries which is very compelling. Just yesterday, for example, 5567 Israelis and Palestinians "friended" on Facebook - and that's probably a good thing. Second, the site presents poll data on "can we achieve world peace in 50 years", a wonderful example of a concrete, relevant metric that Facebook can easily generate. (Plus, who would believe that 30% of Colombians answer that question "yes", while only 10% of Americans do?)

So congratulations to Facebook. Peace on Facebook is a great start.

But world peace it ain't (yet). Let’s think ambitiously for a minute – how could Facebook do more to promote world peace?

  • Data: Facebook sits on a profoundly impressive data set. It has provided a sampling of what is possible, but only a tiny view. Detailed demographics, time series, trend information, and aggregated data would allow researchers and activists to use the information meaningfully. Even better would be to provide downloadable information or APIs;
  • Targeted Expansion: If Facebook really is providing a public good by promoting friendship across boundaries, then a specific strategy to increase usage across the most daunting boundaries should be pursued, perhaps through partnering with (or at least enabling) local organizations. Facebook also needs to work with the Chinese to lift its current ban in China, which excludes a fifth of the planet from the service.
  • NGO Support: NGOs would love to be able to, for example, contact Israelis that have more than 10 Palestinian friends. Facebook's current ad serving infrastructure could be expanded to provide this sort of valuable (and anonymous) communications channel.
  • Feedback: If Facebook really aspires to help us towards world peace, then the endeavor needs to be extremely open and participatory.

The Peace on Facebook initiative is part of a larger "Peace Dot" movement catalyzed by BJ Fogg and colleagues at Stanford University. The new initiative, though still amorphous, appears compelling enough that it might coalesce into something of genuine consequence. Already there is early participation not only from Facebook, but also Ashoka, Care2, Safeway, and others.

The truth is the planet has become tightly wired together very recently -- much of it in the last few years (or even months) -- and nobody really understands the full implications of that. Undoubtedly there are astounding opportunities lurking for communication, cooperation and peace. Maybe "Peace on Facebook" isn't a silly notion at all, and we are all actually greatly underestimating the opportunity.


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