CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says 15 years ago, the only media in Tunisia and Egypt was state-run media. And he’s probably right.
“All you could read, hear and see was government propaganda…. a daily catalogue of the great deeds of Hosni Mubarak or President Ben Ali or whomever,” he says.
The Internet allowed citizens to access more information, from both western and more independent Arab media, including websites with a certain degree of anonymity.
But it was social media that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. While the computer is still a luxury in much of the Middle East, almost everyone has a cell phone. And this breaks the regime’s monopoly on information, allowing individuals to expose the government’s lies and organize themselves. Zakaria concludes:
It’s not a silver bullet, but clearly today’s information technology has the effect of disintermediating – it breaks down hierarchies and monopolies. That’s got to be good for the individual, and it must be bad for dictatorships.
This is true, up to a point.
But we can’t suppose that you only lie if you have a printing press. People with cell phones lie too. This is a heart issue, not a technology issue. (And a heart of darkness is certainly not an African or Arab monopoly.)
I’m not wanting anyone to live under a brutal dictator, but revolution doesn’t always have a beneficial effect. Think of the French Revolution, for example.
Or how badly things have turned out in Zaire (Congo), where a band of rebels ultimately turned out to be a tool of the Tutsi in Rwanda. Having been slaughtered by their Hutu countrymen—when the Tutsi took over power they used the unrest across the border as an excuse to invade and slaughter the Hutu refugees there. There are no good guys in a double genocide.
No technology makes men less evil that they are. We should not ascribe to the Twitter Revolutions virtues they have not yet demonstrated.
Not every country has a George Washington, who will turn over the privileges of victory and rank and go back to the farm. In “Is there an Egyptian George Washington,” Bret Stephens observes:
….until technology recasts human nature, human nature will be what it always has been. And human nature abhors a leadership vacuum. When revolutions are successful, it’s not that they have no “papas”; it’s that they have good papas. So it was with Washington, or with Mandela—men of hard-earned and unmatched moral authority, steeped in the right values, who not only could defeat their adversaries but also rein in the tempers of their own followers.
I’m not contesting the power of social media here. It guarantees the end of many oppressive and evil regimes.
It does not guarantee what will replace them, however. New hierarchies will emerge. Either that or endless anarchy.
All social media can do is increase the speed with which it takes place.
Please note, I believe change comes from the inside out, a transformation rooted in the gospel itself.