Knowledge, deliberation and action to end the conflict with the FARC-ЕР guerrilla
Not all the use of social media was harmful. There are also three examples of beneficial uses of social media during the peace plebiscite:
- • Increased information and reach of the content: Amid the debates about the meaning of some of the settlements reached by the parties, a broad range of initiatives led by civil society flourished in social media, to inform the population about the agreement. The strategies ranged from WhatsApp and Facebook groups with experts to answer questions about the deal, to images with short messages that included basic information about the accord (Quiroga 2016). One example was the initiative 297p, led by the rock band Rompefuego, which live-streamed videos of collective sessions to read and discuss the accord’s content. These initiatives were mainly run by citizens concerned with more people knowing the facts about the decision that Colombians had to make in the plebiscite.
- • Fostering dialogue and reconciliation between citizens with different views: A broad range of social media initiatives encouraging dialogue and reconciliation also emerged during the campaigning days before the plebiscite vote and after the results were announced. These strategies aimed to boost informed discussions about the peace process, while encouraging empathy and respect between citizens with diverse opinions. For instance, the project Didlogos Itinerantes de Paz (Itinerant Peace Dialogues), used songs to encourage conversations about the peace agreement in the municipality ofSuarez, Cauca (Diaz 2016). This type of initiative helped to confront polarisation and showcase content that could, to some point, ameliorate the adverse effects of the echo chambers and filter bubbles.
- • Triggering citizen participation and mobilisation: For the agreement to be endorsed in the plebiscite, the “yes” ballots not only had to attain a majority, but the people who voted in favour had to surpass 13% of the electoral roll. This was a high bet, given that usually abstention in Colombia exceeds 50% for elections of representative democracy, and it is even higher in mechanisms of direct democracy. For instance, a public consultation held in 2018 in Colombia to fight corruption had a turnout of only 32%. Although 99% of the voters endorsed the measures, the consultation was not approved because it required 33.3% of the voter turnout to be officially accepted.
The risk of abstention was so high that, before deciding on initiating the plebiscite, the Congress approved a reform changing its rules regarding voter turnout. The original rule ordered that plebiscites could only be valid if more than 50% of the electoral roll voted, either with a yes or a no. The new law lowered the requirement, to allow the results of the peace plebiscite to be valid if more than 13% of the electoral roll voted yes. At the end of the day, the voter turnout in the plebiscite was only 37.43% of the electoral roll, but 18% of those voters cast their vote in favour of the agreement, making the election binding. Although the abstention was high, initiatives in social media that encouraged citizens to vote and to participate in democracy helped to boost citizen participation in the plebiscite’s elections. This is the case, for instance, of the campaign #ColombiaSe- Abraza (in English #AHugforColombia), that included messages of reconciliation to encourage young adults to vote.
Once the results of the plebiscite were announced, citizens both in favour and against the agreement used social media to pressure the parties to renegotiate the deal. Some of these initiatives included massive country-wide demonstrations organised on WhatsApp and Facebook groups (Perilla 2018). The pressure appeared to be effective. A new deal was signed by the parties on November 24, 2016 and endorsed by the Colombian Congress on November 30, 2016. After the agreement was endorsed, new citizen-led initiatives emerged in Colombia to monitor, support and oppose its implementation with the use of social media.