Sunday, February 13, 2011

Social Media & Internet Serious Players

If you read this column regularly you know that I often take issue with new gadgets or technologies that seem to spring more from the fertile minds of engineers and computer programmers than from real needs of regular human beings. The current situation in Egypt, Tunisia and some other mid-eastern countries has demonstrated clearly that the technologies that many of us might use for some trivial pursuits in our daily lives are helping to change the geopolitical landscape.

Social networking, webcams and mobile phones have enabled direct and almost instantaneous communication among political activists. These same technologies have opened a window from which the world can watch what was happening in real time in public squares and streets from Alexandria to Tunis. Of course the major news operations, CNN, BBC and others, had people on the ground reporting with their “Special Reports.” Their network’s promo announcements looked more like ads for a new car than for a news report of worldwide significance. The real story was not originating from the major media; in many cases it was the mobile phone video or the Facebook and Twitter exchanges that gave us the real picture.

Early on it was interesting to see how those in charge were quick to try to shut down the Internet and mobile phone networks. With the proliferation of satellite phones and other long range technologies, this was futile. The days of any real control of the distribution of information are gone. Since banking, utility networks, and even traffic lights and emergency services in any modern city all require the Internet, turning it off for any length of time is not an option. Blocking certain services like Facebook and Twitter are also futile as a high school age hacker will soon navigate around these blocks.

This “brave new world” of instantaneous communication does not come without a serious negative. Seeing should not always be believing. Digital manipulation of images and video can be done on a laptop in seconds and transmitted to the world as “truth.”

We should not be too quick to embrace as the “whole truth” information coming directly from the citizen journalists on the streets of Cairo without also reviewing the more traditional reporting. I for one would like to have the critical eyes of trusted media along with the unfiltered steams of Twitter and Facebook.

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