For many of its 300 million enthusiasts, Facebook is a convenient way to keep in touch with friends, track down old sweethearts and share drunken photographs with the world. But the global power of the social networking site is now being harnessed for a rather more laudable aim: the pursuit of world peace.
A joint project between Facebook and the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University — called peace.facebook.com — is trying to bring together opposing sides in some of the most bitterly divided areas of the planet, encouraging online friendships between Jews and Muslims, U.S. liberals and conservatives, and Turks and Greeks.
By tracking Facebook friendships and crunching the numbers, the site provides a daily snapshot of who is talking to whom and where.
On Wednesday, for example, peace.facebook revealed that over the previous 24 hours, there had been 7,339 India-Pakistan connections; 13,790 Greece-Turkey connections, and 5,158 Israel-Palestine connections.
A click on the button for religious contact showed that over the same 24 hours, there had been 53,100 Christians and atheists in touch with each other, 1,250 Muslims and Jews talking, and 667 Sunni-Shia connections. In the U.S., meanwhile, the number of conservative-liberal connections was 27,896.
Every day, the site also asks thousands of Facebook users the same question: Do you think we will achieve world peace within 50 years?
The answers — broken down by country — reveal fluctuating geographic levels of optimism. In Colombia, nearly 40 per cent said yes; in the U.S., the figure was just 7.8 per cent. Facebook says it is proud to be doing its bit for world peace by using technology to “help people better understand each other.” A statement on its website adds: “By enabling people from diverse backgrounds to easily connect and share their ideas, we can decrease world conflict in the short and long term.”
B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab and a pioneer in the field of using computer technology to influence people, said the Facebook page was just one component of a larger Stanford university project called Peace Innovation.
The Peace Dot initiative, of which the Facebook page is part, aims to encourage people to create web pages using the peace. address in an effort to highlight the strides already being made towards peace around the world.
To date, 19 very different groups have signed up to the Peace Dot project, registering addresses ranging from peace.couchsurfing.org to peace.dalailamafoundation.org and even peace.safeway.com.
Fogg said he was confident “substantial global peace” could be brought about in the next 30 years. “The process for increasing world peace is innovation,” he said. “Lots of it. There’s no single answer, no single solution. Together we must innovate to create more empathy, understanding, tolerance, and so on.
“We must innovate to help people everywhere have basic needs met, like access to clean water. These are the roots of peace. We can create new ways to strengthen these roots of peace.”
The list of Peace Dot sites, he said, is “evidence of what works and inspiration.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009