I remember when back on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was sitting in front of my TV screen, watching in sheer horror the images of the Twin Towers burning and then collapsing in a cloud of dust and death. I was in Casablanca, Morocco. At the time I was finishing my medical studies writing a memoir, which, as the sole professional activity I had, allowed me plenty of time to socialize and spend whole evenings with friends in different cafés of the city, mostly gossiping and talking politics. But that particular evening was special. We gathered as usual at Café Al Khayma, on Ghandi street. That night I saw how reason can be so rapidly swept away even from the most liberal minds, when the rhetoric, fueled by shocking images, supports a stereotyping propaganda. An additional shock was added to the horror of the attacks themselves: there was no more universal values, no more shared humanity… it was US and THEM. And you can imagine the feeling of emptiness and sorrow in one’s heart when you have no idea what comes next, and when you feel that the world has, by tacit common agreement, decided to enter into an era of hate and darkness.
I knew there were people out there still clinging to reason. But where to find them?
Watching mainstream media wasn’t going to help. Misinformation, disinformation, twisted realities, misconceptions, diatribes, bias… it’s all there. In an era when most media outlets are getting more and more concentrated, serving state or private interests, truth gets lost in the mayhem of violence and stereotypes.
You then realize that to get the news and deconstruct the stigmatizing and polarizing speech (from all sides) and get to know other peoples better, you’ve got to go out there and seek the information, strive for it and get it from and by real people. Doing it in the real world is the better way I can imagine, but it takes time, may cost a lot and is not always feasible.
There you realize how much Internet is a blessing. Back at the time (2001) the net, although having the potential to bring people together, and although some patterns of social media were starting to emerge, wasn’t ordered enough to offer the alternative. But then blogging was invented and bits of news from personal points of view started submerging the web. But then the question remains: how to read through this mass of information? What is reliable?
Global Voices (GV) offered me a convincing answer. The founding idea was both simple and brilliant (at least as I understand it): tell the story of ordinary people, by ordinary people. The organization is celebrating it’s fifth anniversary this year, and since it started, it has helped convey the voices of many bloggers of different background, from every corner of the planet, covering regions and events seldom considered newsworthy by traditional news outlets. Since I joined GV back in April 2009, my life has literally transformed. Beyond the fact that I have become addicted (happily) to social media activity, and beyond the fact that it has helped me meet wonderful people, it also helped me somehow find inner peace, in the sense that it offered me the proof that people are so the same!
There are so many stories out there, posted on GV (this year alone), that help illustrate that fact. Take the story posted by prolific Diego Casaes on violence against women in Brazil for example, or Onnik Krikorian’s coverage of bloggers’ harassment in Azerbaijan.
Blogospheres and social media at large covered by Global Voices are wonderful realities to study and follow. Indeed, I think they are the most important and exciting ongoing human sociological phenomena since… I don’t know… the invention of the telephone? These are personal stories from around the world, shared opinions, sorrows, and joys debunking the most vicious arguments that kept people apart based on their cultural, religious, skin color or ethnic differences. People are literally recording a corpus of contemporary human history, not by experts, nor by any other intermediaries: news and history written by the people for other people.