27 August 2009

Twitter and Web 2.0: Not a revolution, but don't discount it either

In the months following the Iranian elections, much has been made of the use of social networking sites and their role in organizing protests against Ahmedinejad's regime. While the mainstream media has written extensively about the merits of Web 2.0 sites in organizing support for candidates such as Mousavi, others such as Adam Elkus (writing in the Huffington Post) have been a little more skeptical.

The latest piece in a series of articles about the use of Twitter in authoritarian regimes came from Foreign Policy the other day, and it brings up a series of great points about the drawbacks of Web 2.0 in social organizing in authoritarian regimes.

"But Starbuck", you say, "you're one of Web 2.0's biggest promoters". Well, yes, to a point. Hear me out.

The article in Foreign Policy makes it clear that the dynamics in countries like Iran are far different than in the United States in a number of ways. For starters, high-speed Internet is not as readily available in most 3rd world countries as it is in the West, meaning that fewer will have access to Twitter and other accounts. These countries can also easily shut down these sites (or lock up the malcontents) at will, thanks to state control over most forms of communication.

Even more telling still is an issue brought up by the writers at FP--that those most likely to have accounts on Twitter and Facebook are likely to be so globalized that they're already against authoritarian regimes--there's no need to sway their mind.

Indeed, it reminds me of something I just read in a book entitled War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age (oddly enough, it's about internet technology and wasn't available for the Kindle for a while when it first came out). It warns us that, although we shouldn't fall completely in love with new technology--after all, there has been a "dot-com-boom"--we shouldn't completely discount it either. Web 2.0 and social networking sites, for all their flaws, still communicate ideas far more rapidly and effectively than ever before. And that is why totalitarian regimes are so quick to shut them down. (And it's also why the US military shouldn't shut them down completely)

1 comment:

El Goyito said...

I can't remember if I've recommended Clay Shirky's book "Here Comes Everybody" to you...but if not, you need to read it. For a primer on Shirky, watch some of his talks at ted.com.