In case you missed the other posts in the series, I traveled to Italy in June at the behest of the United States Department of State to present a series of lectures about interreligious dialogue, social media, and immigration/integration on the Italian peninsula. It was an incredible tour. The kind fellows at Televisionet.TV even produced a short video (pretty groovy) at one of my stops. I sat down for a quick interview with Andrew Crocioni from Pubblicita Italia magazine. Little did I know, my bearded mug would soon grace the glossy pages of a major Italian publication. Here’s a shot of the spread (only a few pages away from the cover story about Edward Norton):
I asked Mr. Crocioni for a transcript, which arrived promptly (in Italian), so what follows is the best translation that I could muster. My thanks go out to Andrea and the great crew at Pubblicita Italia for putting this together and making me feel like a really glamorous international star. Read on, friends:
The good side of social [media]
by: Andrea Crocioni
Summary: An interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks, for years Tim Brauhn has been committed to promoting social use of the Internet, convinced that a multiethnic and multicultural society functions only if a dialogue is established between its various components. But can this process really be accelerated thanks to the ‘shortcut’ technology of social media? We talked with him as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group.
Blue call-out box: “You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community.”
Blue call-out box: “Young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.”
“Today, social integration also occurs through the intelligent use of technology,” says Tim Brauhn, interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks. He is in Italy as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group (CGIM) and the U.S. Embassy in Italy for a number of seminars. A vegetarian, cyclist, big tea drinker, Tim looks like a tireless globetrotter and promoter of the social use of digital networks. He’s an expert in interreligious dialogue and is the Director of Operations for The 1010 Project, a humanitarian agency in Denver, Colorado.
He spoke of recognizing the way that the Catholic minority in the United States was treated (poorly) by the Protestant majority in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Brauhn (himself a Catholic) recognized the discrimination against Muslim communities and other religious minorities in his country, the same ‘ghettoization’ that had happened to his community in the early decades of the last century. It must be remembered, in fact, that some anti-immigrant movements, such as the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, were also deeply anti-Catholic. Hence his commitment to promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence between members of different religious faiths. “The most important thing,” says Tim Brauhn, “is to connect people around an idea ‘typical’ of the community, in the broadest sense of the term. You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community. Also, I think it is import to bring your message to the people wherever they are located, and not vice versa so that both people to come to you.”
According to the American aid worker, therefore, you need to put things on the ‘table’ that can unite, rather than focusing on the differences. “Dialogue can take a variety of forms: questions related to shared values which I mentioned earlier, the cultural elements that are present in the country for a long time, but also on other topical issues that unite us, such as the debt crisis or themes that we know well: environmentalism, road safety … topics on which we all want to have our say, as part of a community. In this context, young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.” said Brauhn. In all this technology proves to be not only an amplifier, but an accelerator of the messages. Just think of the Arab Spring that saw the network become the protagonist of the political revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Seems more complex, however, to be able to use social networks to build a constructive dialogue between different cultural and religious communities on a daily basis. “We must all become the storyteller,” says Brauhn. “Today we have new tools, just think of how they have changed our lives, like Twitter or Facebook, but behind it all there are always stories. We have news, events, feelings, to communicate with new media, but at the center is the narrative, the real driving force able to mobilize the people.”
From this activist American, then, comes a message of hope for the future, even if behind the incredible flow of information that pass through the web and social networks are hidden also many pitfalls. Online we can move virtually without filters, including hundreds of millions of blogs and multimedia content of all sorts are uploaded constantly. YouTube adds over 60 hours of new video every minute, for instance.
“The social networking tools at our disposal facilitate relations between individuals, but in parallel make it easier to transmit negative messages, racist or xenophobic – precisely – for this to be used with a sense of responsibility. Today it is easy to tell a lie, but sooner or later the lie is bound to be discovered, because the network has its own antibodies. The web is a space where you can verify the information in a few minutes. So I say that there can not be limited to passive users, but please be scrupulous in their search for information and checking them.” But in this process of democratization the benefits are still above the critical issues. “Social media has transformed the way journalists network, for instance.” says Brauhn “We went from monologue to dialogue. So when we come to the digital world it is essential to be honest and tell the truth, the only way to establish oneself and become a credible voice. Those who speak the truth will prevail over those who are purveyors of negative messages and discriminatory attitudes. The important thing is to never let these voices prevail, and to take steps to ensure that they remain ‘strangled’ in the great chorus of integration and civil society.”