Summit Promotes the Power of Technology to Change the World

Winter 2009

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Professor Matthew Waxman first pondered the potential for technology to combat violent extremism in 2007, while he was acting director for the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. As YouTube emerged as a forum for political debates and Facebook became a conduit for political mobilization, Waxman’s brainstorming evolved into legitimate discussions and concrete actions, culminating last December with the inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements Summit, hosted by Columbia Law School.

The summit was organized by Howcast Media and sponsored by Facebook, Google, YouTube, MTV, the U.S. State Department, and Access 360 Media. Its goal was to produce a field manual that will teach individuals, organizations, and governmental bodies how to harness digital media tools and inspire young people to act.

“We at Columbia are excited about helping, designing, and studying innovative public-private partnerships that leverage new technologies to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges,” said Waxman. “Those of us who teach and study law need to understand how communication technologies are transforming politics both at home and abroad.”

The summit attracted international organizations that had successfully used technology to advance their goals. Oscar Morales, of One Million Voices Against the FARC, used Facebook to unite people around the world against an extremist group that has been terrorizing Colombia for more than 40 years. Jamie Tworkowski, of To Write Love on Her Arms, used Myspace to help almost 100,000 people from 40 different countries find resources to cope with mental illness and drug abuse. One man, whose identity had to be kept secret for fear of retribution in his native Egypt, was part of a group that used Facebook to organize two protests against the Egyptian government. Thousands of Egyptians joined the protests, but the government reacted violently. Three people were killed, and hundreds were detained. Simultaneously inspiring and devastating, the protests marked the beginning of a movement within Egypt that is gaining speed, thanks to websites like Facebook. The Egyptian man assured his fellow activists at the summit that the movement would not stop.

“We are a country under occupation,” he said, “and we wish to have our freedom someday.”

These stories and experiences are now available at youthmovements.howcast.com, an online hub that will allow the next wave of social, political, or ideological organizers to learn from their predecessors.

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