Today marks 142 years since the Confederation of Canada. Rather than praise what a great country this is, a country that gave the world scores of diplomats and the concept of the UN Peacekeeping Force, we ask: has the Internet made the world a better place?The Internet, the World Wide Web, and the advent of social networking is fundamentally changing the world. We are in the midst of this revolution, as profound as the development of the printing press, the start of the industrial revolution, and the invention of the internal combustion engine leading to mass production of the automobile. That automobile revolution led to the creation of suburbs and urban sprawl, the paving of many parts of the world, and the development of new vehicles of war.
With today’s Internet revolution, is the world becoming a better place, a more peaceful place? News of the mess in Iran, after their controversial election, is mainly reaching the outside world through the newly adopted Twitter and other social networking tools. The Iranian government is finding it hard to quell the flow of information coming out of their country.
It used to be that journalists were paid professionals who reported the news to specialized media organizations, which prioritized and edited the stories, then distributed, for a fee, through their distribution channels to the general public. As this changes, one question to ask now is ‘who is a journalist?’ Is it the CBC foreign correspondent trying to make it into Tehran, avoid being arrested, and get close enough to the action to report the story? Or is it an Iranian shopkeeper who captures video on her cellphone of a violent demonstration near her shop, and gets her footage onto Youtube? Are they both journalists? One is paid, one is not. One is getting the real story, one is not.
But Iran is not the first. Philippine President Joseph Estrada was overthrown in a peaceful revolution thanks to the power of text messaging. China is infamous in its oppression of its people, and blocking of websites, aided in part by some of the major Internet and search companies including Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.
Clay Shirky, in his book ‘Here Comes Everybody’ says that the rise of these tools, specifically wikis and wikipedia.org, answer that age-old political philosophy question: who guards the guardians? Clay’s answer: everyone.
One major cause of conflict in the world is ignorance. It is easy for a government to rally their people against the atrocities of another country, when there is no way to check, when communication between the countries is restricted or nonexistent. But what happens when the people I have Friended on Facebook live in the country my government wants me to hate? What happens if the tweets I get on Twitter come from people giving me their direct perspective, and not their government’s perspective? What if I change the colour of my Twitter icon in solidarity with their struggle, or join their twibe?
What are the implications for world peace using social networking tools?