Friday, November 19, 2010

Facebook vs. FARC

“A powerful counter-movement has emerged that has demoralized the remaining terrorist group, the FARC. The origins of the new force were not in government or civil society. Instead, a young unemployed computer technician named Oscar Morales spontaneously started a Facebook group that grew quickly to more than 400,000 members. The group, called One Million Voices Against the FARC, put 12 million people in the streets in a single day in 190 cities around the world -- just two months after it was set up.”
-James Glassman, Public Diplomacy 2.0

I remember that day. The parade was marching down 7th Avenue. I had bought a couch which I was getting delivered to my house but the driver could not cross the closed off street, so the two of us had to carry it over our heads across the march (pretty comical) and up the two blocks to my apartment.

Oscar Morales did not spontaneously start up a face book group that changed the course of history with the FARC. His reaction was a reflection of the sentiment there at the time. The entire country was pissed off over an incident with a little boy named Emmanuel who the FARC lied about having in their possession. HOWEVER, I would argue that the state of the FARC at that point was completely debilitated. They "had" Emmanuel, and they had Ingrid Betancourt, they were forced to lie about one and then the other was freed in a dramatic rescue by the military who had infiltrated the FARC up to ten years before. While there are still thousands of displaced persons in Colombia, and yes, people still go missing and get kidnapped with some regularity, the years of being terrorized by the FARC are long gone. Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t leave Bogota in a car because you were sure to be at great risk. Then people started driving in caravans. In 2006, two years before the facebook group, I drove by myself out of the city to meet a friend in a nearby town with zero fear of threat.

My point is not that Morales’s face book group was not a huge success, simply that the response to it was a reflection of civil society. To say that it created a counter-movement is a big miscalculation. Fortunately, Glassman makes this point later.

“.. public diplomacy – whether 1.0 or 2.0 – is only one tool for achieving foreign policy and national security goals. One blogger wrote last week that “starting a Facebook group called 'Terrorism Sucks!' and getting a bunch of people to join it isn't exactly winning the War on Islamic Fundamental Militancy“…In fact, we never said soft power was a substitute for hard power. It is an essential complement.”

You want a good experiment on the effect of social media? Try this exact same thing in Cd. Juarez today. If you get 12 million people out on the street and your curb the cartels’ morale, then facebook is a winner. My bet is that you don’t. And there is no FARC in Bogota to fight you. But would there be a blood bath in the streets in Juarez. There is, every weekend.

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