Building peace in digital spaces - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute, The Tripeople Mural (art by Bert Monterona)

For those who have been wondering what I have been doing in the Philippines since 2012, I was the Technical and Institutional Capacity Building Officer for the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI), a training institute for grassroots peacebuilders, primarily for the Asia- Pacific Region, but with alumni from all over the world.

This January, after serving 10 years with MPI, I said farewell. Aside from maintaining MPI’s website and social media presence, I also served as the institute’s data protection officer, working with other individuals and organizations on digital rights and digital peacebuilding. This culminated in being a member of a cohort of digital rights activists in the Southeast Asia Digital Rights Collaborative — Association for Progressive Communication — where we developed the project “Digital Peacebuilding and Digital Rights in Mindanao.”

Along with alumni for MPI, we monitored and mapped the ways that conflicts were either exacerbated by or mediated through social media. Our news is inundated with stories of how social media and digital communication are such disruptive forces around the globe, especially in conflicts and in relation to U.S. elections. What is lost in this news is that social media and other digital tools can be used for peacebuilding as well. As defined by the Alliance for Peacebuilding: “Digital peacebuilding is the analysis of and response to online conflict dynamics and the harnessing of digital tools to amplify peacebuilding outcomes.”

How can Maryknoll returned missioners, affiliates and others be involved in digital peacebuilding on a practical level? Build Up, one of the leading organizations involved in digital peacebuilding, suggests:

Social media. The first and perhaps most important area of interaction, social media can be one of the most challenging, given its potential toxicity and the amount of disinformation. Yet it can play important roles in building peace:

  • As a support community, social media can help us connect with one another as individuals and with networks that are promoting peace.
  • Engaging with different points of view in constructive ways. We can both constructively communicate with those who may not agree with us but are open to such engagement and seek out knowledge outside our own “information silos.”

Film and audio. We can tell the stories of those with whom we work through podcasts, YouTube, and other digital communication tools. Through such forums, we can share our direct and concrete realities to counter false narratives.

Digital learning. Many of us grew tired of online meetings during the pandemic, but e-learning platforms and online forums still provide an important digital space for learning about and promoting peacebuilding. You can take free online courses such as Build Up’s Community & Learning or ConnexUs Technology for Good. Your organization can offer online courses or learning opportunities, workshops, lectures or seminars related to the peacebuilding activities in which you are involved. In-person learning is still ideal, but the internet now provides us affordable and accessible ways to reach around the globe.

Research. For those wanting to go more in-depth, you may want to consider engaging in quantitative surveys or social media analysis. Such information can provide valuable input for understanding what is happening online and in-person, providing a basis for conflict analysis.

Making it fun. Several digital games — both apps and online — can make learning and promoting peacebuilding both enjoyable and fun. UNESCO’s Digital Games for Peace Challenge offers a sampling of such games, even including a version of the popular Minecraft game, Minecraft: Education Edition, that is centered around four Nobel laureates. On MPI’s webpage Games for Computers and/or Mobile Devices you can find a list that I had compiled.

Remember that digital peacebuilding is not just peacebuilding in the digital space. Digital peacebuilding is using digital tools and platforms — anything from word processing to AI — to work for and promote peace online and in real life. As individuals and with our organizations and networks, we can and should engage in the digital space to create a more just and peaceful world.


More resources on digital peacebuilding are available on the MPI website here

This post is republished from the May-June 2024 issue of the Maryknoll Affiliates newsletter Not So Far Afield.

Fred Goddard
Fred Goddard (Class of 1985) served for more than 13 years as a Maryknoll lay missioner in the Philippines, Nicaragua and the United States. He was the executive coordinator of the Maryknoll Affiliates from 1999 until 2012. He and his wife, Jet (Class of 1990), live in Davao City in the Philippines, where Fred worked for 10 years with the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute.