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Israeli president talks democracy, power of Facebook

Shimon Peres wants to learn how to use social media to bridge government divides

In an attempt to learn how to use social media to bridge the divide between countries, Israeli President Shimon Peres is visiting Facebook's headquarters today.

Peres also is launching his own Facebook page, which he hopes will help him reach out to young Arabs around the world.

The 88-year-old leader sat down with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to take questions from audience members and online users for a live-stream on Facebook Live. Peres talked about the changing state of democracy, Facebook's global effects and about living a life of service.

"Before, people from a poor country didn't have the slightest idea what was happening in the rest of the world. Now it's a different world," said Peres, taking a question about the power of social media. "The greatest thing in life is not free speech, but free expression. To express yourself is the great revolution."

The Israeli president also talked about what he sees as the dangers of the Iranian government, but also said he was happy to hear that there have been more than 36,000 connections between Israelis and Palestinians on Facebook's Peace page.

"The great hope is that democracy is no longer the business of governments but the business of the people. Young Arabs and Israelis do connect," he said. "The [Facebook] is a vision, something that you can see with your own eyes and react instinctively. I think that the revolution of Facebook is unmatched and unbelievable for the better."

The 88-year-old leader also will be taking questions from Facebook users at noon EST today on Facebook live. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg will be moderating the discussion and posing questions that Facebook users posted on the site.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said Peres is smart to turn to social media in an attempt to reach out to people around the world.

"Social networking has become a viable, maybe the most viable, way of influencing society," he said. "It has the power to reach millions of people with a single message. No other medium, not even TV, has that power. Social networking spans all walks of life, age demographics and has no territorial boundaries."

"I think social media can help moderately in building bridges," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "The number of people participating [in social networking] has risen far above critical mass, and you can try to leverage those people for peace and understanding, just as you try to leverage them for revenue."

He added that Peres is wise to try to learn more about social networking and how it can affect the causes he's passionate about.

"Social networking is a tool, and Perez is right, you have to learn how to use it," Gottheil said. "I think that is pretty cool. I hope I'm that open to relatively new things when I'm that age."

Last spring, President Barack Obama held a town hall event live on Facebook. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg moderated the hourlong event in which audience members and Facebook users posed questions to the president.

Peres has been on a tour of the U.S. and now is making a four-day visit to Silicon Valley. He's also reportedly meeting with Google co-founder Sergey Brin this week.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.


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