Social and digital media monitoring for nonviolence: a distributed cognition perspective of the precariousness of peace work

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Department of Humanities


Purpose: This paper aims to explore the technologization of peace work through “remote support monitors” that use social and digital media technologies like social media to alert local violence prevention actors to potentially violent situations during demonstrations. Design/methodology/approach: Using a distributed cognition lens, the authors explore the information processing of monitors within peace organizations. The authors adopt a qualitative thematic analysis methodology composed of interviews with monitors and documents from their shared communication and discussion channels. The authors’ analysis seeks to highlight how information is transformed between social and technical actors through the process of monitoring. Findings: The authors’ analysis identifies that the technologization of monitoring for violence prevention to assist nonviolent activists produces two principal and related forms of transformation: appropriation and hidden attributes. Monitors “appropriate” information from sources to fit new ends and modes of representation throughout the process of detection, verification and dissemination. The verification and dissemination processes likewise render latent supporting informational elements, hiding the aggregative nature of information flow in monitoring. The authors connect the ideas of appropriation and hidden attributes to broader discourses in surveillance and trust that challenge monitoring and its place in peace work going forward. Originality/value: To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first to focus on the communicative and information processes of remote support monitors. The authors demonstrate that adoption of social and digital media information of incipient violence and response processes for its mitigation suggests both a social and technical precarity for the role of monitoring.

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Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society