Fake President Rajapaksa’s Facebook page, now taken down
A while ago I told a documentary filmmaker that you can’t start a revolution on Facebook. This was obviously wrong. You can start revolutions on Facebook, but man does not march on Facebook alone. What social networks seem to do is catalyze existing social possibilities, even when physical assembly is illegal. They seem to work because they show people that they’re not alone, and that they’re not powerless. What Facebook is a sign of is that people are beginning to matter. Indeed, any young person now has a power previously reserved for spies or the press. After years when the only power that trickled down was AK-47s and explosives, it’s nice to see an information revolution.
This rambling is in reference to a column by my dad, Rohan Samarajiva, in the Bangladesh Daily Star.
It seems that all are facing hard choices. The rules are changing but no one knows quite what they are.
It was in 1983 that Ithiel de Sola Pool wrote ‘Technologies of freedom’. He acclaimed direct broadcast satellites challenging the monopoly of the nation state on what its citizens could see and hear. He could not have dreamt that it would be Qatar-based Al Jazeera and not the Voice of America that would break the monopoly. He would not have been surprised Qaddafi’s men would do the jamming. Despite the phenomenon having been analysed more than 25 years ago, the tipping point has been reached only now.
So it seems the key is not technology per se, but how much they have diffused; whether they have reached the critical mass.
What we are seeing is mass media actually reaching the mass. Not consuming, but producing. I remember discovering FTP in University, the empowerment I felt on being able to upload onto the web rather than just download. Now that’s available for almost anyone. What is happening is that people now matter. They have a voice beyond their skulls.
The basic thing going wrong in the world is that average people get screwed over and just have to curse to themselves. There’s injustice everywhere, but as long as it’s private, the unjust and strong can just laugh. Now, however, a person can pull out a camera and record John Galliano ranting against Jews, or circulate photographs of the Libyans Gaddafi has killed in the streets. People have a voice now, and that is power.
The life cycle of any technology, however, is that it goes through a period of wild freedom followed by commodification and control. At some point governments are going to figure out how to clamp down on Internet assembly (like China) and the arms race will have to go on. For now, however, it seems like the good guys are winning.