MOUNTAIN VIEW, California – In the poorest nations on the planet, those facing such extreme poverty have held a historically under-represented voice in politics. Today, the imbalance in representation, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, has culminated in a hotbed of political strife.
The Arab Spring demonstrates the significant role played by online social media in setting the stage for political progress. Not only do individuals take part in digital-political revolution, but companies, like Google, seem to have a dog in the fight. A Google Ideas summit series brought former Islamic radicals together to address violent extremism in the context of technology. By using a simple, online surveying tool, Google Ideas shows how corporations can use the Internet to change the historical, political under-representation of the poor, and possibly alleviate tension in target nations.
The idea behind Google Ideas is to offer a forum for “the next five billion to come online” and to help people voice opinions and ideas related to the thorny issues and often-dangerous political movements across the globe. By offering a place for individuals to connect online, Google Ideas can foster international discussion and solution-development through a laboratory or think-tank environment that includes summits of people with a diverse range of expertise and experience.
Case in point: Google’s 2011 Summit Against Violent Extremism partnered with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Tribeca Film Festival to address a common goal of how technology can help counter violent extremism. The summit engaged former radicals from all walks of life, including former gang members and neo-Nazis, to discuss violent extremism and how to use technological innovations to prevent youth from joining similar, aggressive movements. The Summit Against Violent Extremism is only one of many Google Ideas summits that brings experts together to discuss global issues.
Even the simple data collection and surveying tools included in the Google Ideas interface may aid countries or organizations in changing the future of human rights for underrepresented communities. As part of a pilot program to help draft Somalia’s new constitution, Google Ideas was used to survey the interests of Somali citizens and gauge their opinions on key issues for the important document. In fragile or failed states like Somalia, this information may prove vital to the success of a new government.
Not specifically addressed by the project is the self-selection that would seem to come from projects like the Somali survey. In other words, by polling those with access to the Internet, is there not a fear that one would be excluding the very people the project was designed to empower: the extreme poor? It seems that those persons, the ones without access to computers or mobile devices, would still remain unheard. Nonetheless, the realization that technology will expand its influence on global issues is impetus enough to move forward in understanding how it can continue to be a boon, rather than an obstacle to progress.
To access a schedule of the summits, click here.
– Herman Watson