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Technology is Outrunning the Government…Now What?

February 14, 2011

Are we “cyber-intellectuals” who can only focus on why and if Twitter and Facebook facilitated the Egyptian revolution?

Egypt Revolution Day 15

Wallflowers at the Revolution” by The New York Time’s Frank Rich offers a relevant, yet generalized argument that due to selective T.V. news coverage and limited access to non-U.S. broadcasts, Americans don’t “really know” what is happening in Egypt.  Or, as Rich so poignantly explained, we can’t “distinguish Sunni from Shia.”

Additionally, Rich summarizes that Americans’ haste to classify social media as a vital or even functional role in Egypt’s revolution reinforces his aforementioned claim that narrow-minded Americans only understand what they are programmed to absorb.  He quotes Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, as stating that “the biggest demonstrations in Egypt to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. ‘There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook.’”

Mr. Clancy, isn’t it possible that “the biggest demonstrations” occurred on those days because the Egyptian government unplugged itself (from the Internet) in an effort to silence opposition and stop online organization of anti-government activists, which only intensified the youth’s mission to revolt?  Think about it.

The recent New York Times article, “Wired and Shrewd, Young Egyptians Guide Revolt” settles this debate because the young revolt leaders reveal that they distributed a schedule that disclosed the “biggest” protest days. 

I’d argue that Twitter and Facebook are not the reason for the revolution but they certainly are a catalyst.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New York Magazine article he concludes that “High-risk activism,” like the youth revolt in Egypt, is closely linked to a “strong-tie” phenomenon: “highly committed, articulate supporters” of the same goals and values with a “deep-rooted, emotional connection” to the cause. 

Gladwell’s article outlines the motivation needed to “change the status-quo,” but social media provided the vehicle to help accelerate the protestors’ action.

So, the question is not “did social media play a role?”  It did.  The bigger question is “what do government leaders do now?”  If a revolution of this magnitude can manifest itself almost overnight and individuals like Julian Assange, can legitimately publish “classified” government documents that people now feel entitled to read, then how does the U.S. government uphold its legal and ethical obligation to the first amendment, as well as its promise to “serve and protect?”

Technology will continue to evolve and influence the way people share, consume and circulate information.  Is it right for the government to monitor these actions?  Should the government have the right to “shut down” the Internet if it foresees, what it believes to be, unmitigated danger?  Or is complete transparency more important?  How much power and control should the government have over the dissemination of information?  And, if the government considers certain information privileged, how do we (the people) know if the government is making the “right” choices?”

Currently, technology is outrunning the government.  The government’s inability to keep up is not lost on the public.  So, what, if anything, should the government do?

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