How International Conflict Resolution Has Changed In The Information Age

The Economist termed the Iceland’s 2008 banking collapse as the largest ever in world history, relative to the country’s size and population. The country’s international debt had reached 9.5 trillion kroner ($68 billion) by October 2008. To put that number in perspective, Iceland’s total gross domestic product in 2007 was only 1.3 trillion kroner ($11.6 billion), according to Statistics Iceland. A vast majority of this debt was ran up by the careless dealings of bankers who gambled away the wellbeing of Iceland’s citizens like a blackjack player in a casino. International corporate media mostly ignored what happened next.

Icelanders refused to enslave taxpayers for the next three generations by paying back the debt a few bankers ran up. Instead of being force-fed austerity or violently taking the streets, Icelanders allowed the banks to fail and go bankrupt. In a subsequent unprecedented move, Icelandic authorities arrested and jailed several bankers who were involved in crimes, such as insider trading, breach of trust and theft. Icelanders made sure this would never happen again by taking to Facebook and Twitter to crowdsource an entirely new constitution.

A Constitutional Council of 25 citizens, who were selected from 950 lottery-selected participants, drafted the new Constitution. They gathered feedback via social media and its own website from the half of Iceland’s 235,000 eligible voters who chose to participate, according to And although the new Constitution has hit a snag upon reaching Parliament, Iceland proved just how powerful Internet can be when facing tyranny and oppression by governments without shedding any blood.

Technology & Conflict Resolution

The week prior to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, nearly 2 million related tweets, and nearly 6 million total views of online videos referenced Egypt in some way, according to a 2011 study conducted by the University of Washington. The study further suggests that it was the government shutting down Internet access that forced people to take the streets and form what many believe to be the largest protests in human history. Some contend that the removal of Mubarak was a violent coup, yet people on the ground say reactive self-defense and the burning of police stations were both necessary for the revolution to succeed.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) looked beyond the Arab Spring and observed how social media is also at the community-level for conflict resolution. Sheldon Himelfarb, director of the USIP’s Center of Innovation, discussed the organization’s initiative known as Blogs & Bullets at a December 12 Council On Foreign Relations workshop. He cites YaLa-Young network, which is a 200,000-member online network of Israeli and Palestinian youth working to bridge ethnic and political differences between the two factions. Twitter has been a “game-changer” in Brazil, as shantytown residents have reduced gang violence and police brutality as a result of live tweeting. Of course he also mentioned Oscar Morales, the Columbian youth who used Facebook to rally citizens against FARC, an organization that the government classifies as terrorists.

Demand For Satellite Communications in Africa

Mobile phone penetration reached 70 percent on the African continent in 2012, but only 16 percent of the population had Internet access, according to ICT Africa. Satellite companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to help connect inland Africa not only with one another, but with the rest of the world. HughesNet has at least 78,000 satellites across the continent known as very small aperture terminals (VSATs), which transmit both narrowband and broadband data to rural and remote locations, according to Satellite telephone companies like also provide communication service to those hard-to-reach areas.

Kenya has been at the forefront of changing its culture from violent protests to civil engagement via communications technology. Sararicom, the largest phone company in Kenya, and Sisi ni Amani Kenya (SNA-K), a conflict resolution organization, formed an alliance in 2010 with that in mind. Safaricom donated 50 million free text messages to SNA-K to reach out to the people, according to a Deseret News report. SNA-K then partnered with Kenyan Police and several peacekeeping organizations in an effort to quell violence in the country. After a few years of organizing civic engagements and informing the public with immediate, unbiased political information via SMS, SNA-K is now considered a trusted, influential voice for peace in the country.

Ken Bank’s book “SMS Uprising: Mobile Activism In Africa” talks about similar use of SMS in Uganda, Zimbabawe and DR Congo.

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