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238 “Face­ book Is Like a Re­ li­ gion­ Around Here”­ Voices from the “Arab ­ Spring” and the ­ Policy-Making Com­ mu­ nity brian bri­ vati Human ­ rights ac­ ti­ vist Emin ­ Milli’s view of the role of Face­ book in the pop­ u­ lar­ protest move­ ments of our age—that so­ cial media is like a re­ li­ gion—pro­ vokes an ob­ vi­ ous and im­ por­ tant ques­ tion that this essay sets out to ex­ plore: if the re­ cent re­ volts in the Mid­ dle East and North Af­ rica were mo­ bi­ lized ­ through open so­ cial media, why did no sig­ nif­i­ cant ac­ tors in the ­ foreign ­ policy-making and se­ cur­ ity com­ mu­ nities see them com­ ing? The an­ swer lies in the way in which these com­ mu­ nities of an­ a­ lysts read the in­ for­ ma­ tion in front of them. As most of that in­ for­ ma­ tion is now pre­ sented via elec­ tronic media, the way in which pol­ icy mak­ ers read those ­ sources is key to an under­ stand­ ing of what went wrong. This under­ stand­ ing will lead in turn to two contrast­ ing ways in which the ­ growth of elec­ tronic in­ for­ ma­ tion ­ sources, like the so­ cial media ­ spaces of the Inter­ net, can be ­ viewed. Ei­ ther these are the new var­ i­ ables that de­ ter­ mine­ events and there has been a par­ a­ digm shift in the na­ ture of the way human his­ tory is made, or they are ­ merely the lat­ est in a long line of me­ diums of com­ mu­ ni­ ca­ tion ­ through which the tra­ di­ tional var­ i­ ables that de­ ter­ mine out­ comes are com­ mu­ ni­ cated. Kay Schaf­ fer and Sid­ o­ nie Smith, in their essay in this vol­ ume, dis­ cuss the im­ pli­ ca­ tions of these ­ changes from a theo­ ret­ i­ cal per­ spec­ tive and the per­ spec­ tive of the human ­ rights in­ dus­ try. My con­ cern here is that if there has been a par­ a­ digm shift then pol­ icy mak­ ers, most im­ por­ tantly those who run the ­ foreign pol­ icy and se­ cur­ ity ap­ pa­ ra­ tuses of mem­ ber ­ states of the ­ United Na­ tions Se­ cur­ ity Coun­ cil, need to learn the lan­ guages of the new par­ a­ digm in order to pre­ dict what will hap­ pen next. They cur­ rently can­ not do this. They do “Facebook Is Like a Religion Around Here” 239 not under­ stand the im­ por­ tance of dig­ i­ tal voice. If, on the other hand, all we are see­ ing is the de­ vel­ op­ ment of new com­ mu­ ni­ ca­ tions plat­ forms and not new means of de­ cid­ ing out­ comes, then this does not mat­ ter and the pol­ icy mak­ ers can con­ tinue to look at the world in tra­ di­ tional ways. In the end, that is, the out­ come of ­ events will be de­ ter­ mined in the same way they al­ ways have. On bal­ ance, ­ though, ­ through my job as di­ rec­ tor of a human ­ rights or­ gan­ iza­ tion, and hav­ ing ­ worked with a range of ac­ tors in many coun­ tries en­ gaged ei­ ther di­ rectly in these ­ events or as an­ a­ lysts of them, I have come to be­ lieve that there has in­ deed been a par­ a­ digm shift: we con­ tinue to look at the world in tra­ di­ tional ways at our peril. But this con­ clu­ sion has ­ arisen from a ­ finely bal­ anced ar­ gu­ ment, and I will at­ tempt in what fol­ lows to give a clear ac­ count of both sides. Which­ ever ex­ treme po­ si­ tion might be truer, no one can deny that those who do not en­ gage with the new means of com­ mu­ ni­ ca­ tion are ­ doomed, at the very least, to live in ig­ nor­ ance. The last ten years have seen a mo­ men­ tous se­ ries of ­ changes on the inter­ na­ tional scene. It is worth stop­ ping for a mo­ ment to con­ sider these ­ events, the con­ se­ quences of which are still un­ fold­ ing. In Af­ ghan­ i­ stan...


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