Beki Grinter

Technology and Democracy

In research, social media on February 3, 2011 at 11:27 am

Today it was announced that Wikileaks has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This caused me to reflect on an article by Kentaro Toyama that appeared in the Atlantic. His argument is that social networks, and information technology more generally, are not tools for democracy and positive change. As the title rather aptly puts it, twitter could fuel the exchange of information but it does not cause revolution to happen. He provides a variety of examples, largely to make the point that technology alone does nothing.

Just recently I wrote about Wikipedia. Despite encouraging open participation has not led to equal participation. To the extent that democracy correlates to equity and participation, wikipedia reminds us that even when the conditions appear more favourable (wikipedia invites participation), democracy does not result.

In the article about Wikileaks, the person who nominated said

Snorre Valen, 26, a Norwegian musician and politician, said he chose to nominate WikiLeaks for promoting human rights and freedom of speech.

It sounds a bit like what I imagine a democracy to be.

So, does wikileaks support democracy? Ever since I watched the 60 Minutes interview with Julian Assange, I’ve been wondering about wikileaks. Reading Toyama’s article and thinking about the recent news about wikipedia, I wonder whether comparing them to wikileaks is worthwhile. When I did, I thought that one interesting feature was that Wikipedia and twitter are both produced, if you will, by the public for other members of the public. Wikileaks’ content is produced by governments and corporations largely for internal and restricted consumption. Wikileaks supports, you might say, whistleblowers who change the audience for the material produced.

An outloud ponder if you will.

Gladwell has also piped up again, he notes that many uprisings/revolutions occurred without twitter and other electronic media.


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