by Martin Schmetz
Cyberpeace-Logo Taube 'digital': CC BY-SA 3.0 mit Nennung "Sanne Grabisch ideal.istik.de für die Cyberpeace-Kampagne des FIfF cyberpeace.fiff.de"
But let’s take a step back. First of all: What is peace? Among the many definitions thrown around, one has has managed to stay relevant for decades: Johan Galtung’s
What does this have to do with peace on the internet? After all, nobody is shooting bullets at us over the internet or blowing up nuclear power plants (although the occasional steel mill may have suffered)
The tip of the iceberg: The visible traces of data we leave
As usual, looking at satire is instructive in this case: When The Onion claims that every potential 2040 president is already unelectable due to Facebook
And I am not sure whether it is just a generational thing, either: Even those that have been fully socialized in social media will likely cringe when they look at old parts of their social media footprint. Certainly, some curatorship takes place even years later, indicating that there are things that we only deem acceptable at that stage in life. The generational argument also presumes that the coming generations are completely homogeneous when it comes to values, which seems like a silly assumptions to make. Just because my circle of friends on some platform and I might feel that a comment is appropriate does not mean that the same can be said for a larger group in society. This factor alone offers enough breeding ground for future dissent.
But that does not mean that using social media or keeping an online foot print at all is the mistake to make here. These services have become an integral part of our lives. Self-censorship is not the answer. What is needed is a larger dialogue in society on how we deal with potential access to a vast slice of most everyone’s past. And it cannot be about simply accepting it, either. The problem is not only that the data is there, it is that it shows in a much clearer way than before just how heterogeneous our society actually is – and enforcing homogeneity should not be the lesson we take away from this. Instead, what is needed is a way to forgive and actually celebrate diversity. Even diversity as exemplified in past stupidity on Facebok.
The scary bottom part of the iceberg: The data we don't see
But that is only the data we actually see and what we do with it as a society. The much larger part of the data that we leave all over the net every day is data we do not see,but that is still kept virtually forever. And that data says a lot about us and our lives. The fact that this data is kept for as long as it is – as long as the company’s servers exists, possibly longer if it is mirrored elsewhere, such as in secret service databases – means that this data offers the possibility for much larger forms of surveillance.
And while this surveillance might not directly endanger our peace – after all, there is no direct violence involved – it leads to self-censorship, it creates paranoia, it erodes trust and the very fabric of a free and open society. And this very much is not compatible with the idea of positive peace. The existence of the data we leave out there becomes a vague threat in and of itself.
In short: If we want to talk about cyberpeace, the usual suspects of hacks, malware and what have you are absolutely worth talking about, sure. And seeing as the internet is part of all of our lives at this point in one way or another, these threats are undoubtedly not just a niche topic anymore. But cyberpeace as it is presented here actually goes much further: Because the internet has become such an integral part of our lives, this peace is just an aspect of a peaceful life in a connected, democratic society in general. The suffix just tells us that we should focus on this aspect more, at least for the sake of a discussion. But in the end, cyberpeace is not distinct from peace itself. It is just one facet of it.
This peace is threatened by the unchecked and unreflected persistence of data. As long as we do not come to terms with how we, as a society, handle the fact that we will not forget anymore (at least in the sense that the information will likely always be out there for someone to find), peace is threatened by unforgiving political discourse. But the data that we can’t see threatens us just as much: We also need to understand the value of large amounts of data and how they can undermine the trust and stability in a society just by hanging over our heads like Damocles’ sword. Cyberpeace is then not only a question of attacks from the outside. It is a question of peace within society due to our inability to forget or forgive. And it is a question of our personal peace, our peace of mind.