But, Wait, Whoever Said That Twitter Would Save The World?

from the strawman-alert dept

A bunch of folks sent over an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that goes out of its way to trash "techno-utopians" for believing that the internet is a good thing and can be used to help fight authoritarian regimes, such as the one in Iran. The problem with the piece, written by Evgeny Morozov, is that it basically sets up a strawman that is quite easy to knock down:
It's easy to see why a world in which young Iranians embrace the latest technology funded by venture capitalists from Silicon Valley, while American diplomats sit back, sip tea and shovel the winter snow on a break from work, sounds so appealing. But is such a world achievable? Will Twitter and Facebook come to the rescue and fill in the void left by more conventional tools of diplomacy? Will the oppressed masses in authoritarian states join the barricades once they get unfettered access to Wikipedia and Twitter?
But who made that argument? The answer, which Morozov ignores or conveniently skips over, is no one. No one is saying that Twitter or Facebook will replace traditional diplomacy. No one says that Iranians with access to Wikipedia will suddenly overthrow their government. It's a total strawman that Morozov sets up because it's so easy to knock down and there's no one at all to defend it, because no one's said it.

Instead, what people are saying is that having better tools (which, by the way, go way beyond Twitter and Wikipedia -- but it's easier to dismiss what people are saying by lumping the entire internet into two offerings) can help aid in driving change. But no one is saying it takes away the need for diplomacy or real leadership. No one is saying that the technology can't also be used by the other side -- often to oppress further (as Morozov implies later in his article). The argument is that these tools, if used well, can augment and help those fighting against such regimes. Further, the argument in many cases (though, certainly not all) is that if you provide better communication tools to "the masses," in the long run, that will enable them to more strongly advocate for their own rights. Though, again, that is as a process of augmenting true leadership -- not replacing it entirely.

Morozov uses the failure of Twitter to successfully allow the Green Movement in Iran to effect change and the (supposed) failure of West German TV in East Germany in the late 80s to lead people to tear down the wall, as his only bits of evidence. But, again, that presupposes the wrong thing: that it is the technology alone that leads to revolution. Yet, again, no one claims such a thing. The technology is a tool, and it depends entirely on how it's used as to how effective a tool it is for the purpose. But what many of us who believe in the forward march of technological progress feel is that, in the long run, the greater flow of information opens up more opportunities for people to step into a leadership role, and leverage the technology effectively.

So, yes, it's true that technology alone does not make a revolution. But no one claimed it did. That's just a strawman that's easy for Morozov to knock over. The real issue shouldn't be trying to disprove mythological statements from a nebulous group of "techno-utopian,s" but looking for ways to make sure those other elements are in place to make use of the technology in a positive and helpful manner.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2010 @ 11:45am

    It seems like the same argument that old media has used since the internet started. "There's too much stuff and it's confusing." They still want to be the gatekeepers. So a revolution can only be successful if they decide to cover it. Like the 1979 revolution in Iran. Good job there, old media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Richard Corsale (profile), 24 Feb 2010 @ 12:15pm


    I read that this morning. I also thought it was a ridiculous piece of theater. The WSJ used to have much higher standards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2010 @ 12:20pm

    How much WSJ has contributed to such causes I wonder

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    known coward, 24 Feb 2010 @ 12:23pm

    who said twitter will save the world ??

    twitter i do not know, the internet will save the world, lots of folks and i think they are utopian dreamers. I would recommend that wonderfull book of the late 90's "death of distance" as an example.


    has the blurb (the original version spoke much of politics, i have not read V2.0) and it is a book with which i strongly disagree.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    zegota (profile), 24 Feb 2010 @ 12:48pm

    Not surprised

    To the WSJ columnists, the only thing that can make any real change is a giant corporation working in the inherently efficient and benevolent free market! That, and Republican administrations, of course.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 24 Feb 2010 @ 12:49pm


    I tried to read that article (I get the dead tree version, and they want me to pay extra to get online. Morons.) I lost it when he mentioned Barlow's declaration whilst being apparently unaware of The Hacker Crackdown, which was its raison d'etre.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Richard Corsale (profile), 24 Feb 2010 @ 1:15pm

    Re: MEGO


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    bob, 24 Feb 2010 @ 3:02pm

    Re: Not surprised

    The free market is inherently efficient if it is indeed a free market.
    If a presidential administration is run within the constraints of the US Constitution it too will be beneficent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    lens42 (profile), 26 Feb 2010 @ 11:25pm

    So pointless

    All of these rants against things that will not go away are so pointless. Who cares if Google, Twitter, file sharing, Wikipedia, etc. etc. etc. don't live up to someone's view of how the world should be. They might as well be ranting about air and water. This is the world as it is. Deal with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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