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Georgia discusses developing social media

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, April 12

The Conference on Social Media for Social Change and the accompanying Social Innovation Camp were officially opened at the Merab Berdzenishvili Cultural Centre on April 9. At both leading European, Georgian, Armenian and Azeri innovation technology companies, web developers, university professors, journalists and members of Government and non-governmental organisations shared their experience in such issues as using social media as a catalyst of social change, civil journalism and the role of traditional and non-traditional media in countries moving towards democracy. The events were organised by PH International from the US and Open Society Georgia.

The organisers explained that the events united those who are aware of their country’s needs. Different people interested in social media development had suggested the events on the organisers' web pages. The initial 200 project ideas which could be discussed were whittled down to 40 and then finally 6. Participants were then divided into groups to discuss them and create web projects based on them which were supposed to be both innovative and realistic. The projects covered issues such as election monitoring, human rights violations recording, helping disabled people and improving municipal services and of the 6 projects 2 were chosen to receive prizes. One winner was identified by 6 European experts and 3,000 dollars was given to its authors to put it into practice, while the second one was identified by the conference participants and given 3,000 dollars, as well, for the same purpose.

“The development of social media can bring about significant positive changes in any country. We have experience of working in this direction, as we conducted such exercises in Britain in 2007, in Bratislava in 2009 and now in Georgia. What is most important is that we have gathered here representatives of different and dissimilar spheres and they are discussing what difficulties there are in the social media sphere in Georgia and how these difficulties might be reduced and overcome. Those participating here will be able to draw up real projects for social media development and we will help them to make these plans a reality. This will be one very important step forward,” conference organiser Dan McQuillan said.

The initiators explained the importance of the events to The Messenger. "These are innovative projects in Georgia. The role of the social media has been discussed and we will then see the practical realisation of ideas. Holding the first such events in the region here in Georgia will assist social media development in Georgia and the South Caucasus. New social web projects are to be created, which will be available for the public, and new web pages are to be created which will demand less material resources. Barack Obama frequently mentions that social media played an important role in him becoming President of the United States, as a lot of young voters and Democratic supporters were mobilised on Facebook, My Space etcetera. We also plan on creating websites, including one for the upcoming elections on which observers will record all the violations they find and a parallel one on which ordinary citizens can comment on the elections," Open Society Georgia Foundations’ Executive Director Keti Khutsishvili stated.

Elizabeth Metraux, PH International Programme Director, told The Messenger that lack of understanding of what social media is one of the main problem in developing it. "Such meetings are very important for increasing people’s awareness of what social media is, why it is important and what changes its development might bring for the country. Sharing ideas and experiences is very significant in developing social media in Georgia and other countries where it is needed,” Metaux said.