A short mediation on current affairs. The events in Iran and with the recent passing of Michael Jackson have shown us that no matter how much the word changes it still stays the same.
With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.
One of Orson Wells early, among numerous, moments of genius was his serialized rendition of War of the Worlds, presented documentary style on October 30, 1938 on the CBS radio network. Because many did not hear the beginning of the broadcast it had the unintended (maybe?) impact of inciting a panic among millions.To whit.
Richard J. Hand cites studies by unnamed historians who "calculate[d] that some six million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were 'genuinely frightened'". While Welles and company were heard by a comparatively small audience (in the same period, NBC's audience was an estimated 30 million), the uproar was anything but minute: within a month, there were 12,500 newspaper articles about the broadcast or its impact, while Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Hand writes, as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy."
A disturbing but inevitable trend with social media phenomena like Twitter is that the information we get from those mediums is no more reliable than we can get anywhere else (Such as Mr. Goldblum’s apparent demise) and is perhaps, currently, more susceptible to manipulation than we believe.
Imagine the utility and value of Twitter in a national disaster along the lines of Katrina or 9/11. Now image ‘envious’ parties that wanted to use tools like Twitter to sow confusion and paranoia through that channel.
When we look at Iran we see that tools like Twitter and internet can sow the seeds of the revolution while at the same enable the lockdown, manipulation and preservation of the status quo. See The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized: How the Internet Helps Iran Silence Activists for a more nuanced exploration by Farhad Manjoo and see Deep Packet Inspection to understand some of the implications of what we do online contain.
This is not to say that tools like Twitter or Facebook should not be trusted, they are merely technology that can be used for a ‘variety’ of ends and we should perhaps be thinking about the far broader implications that they bring to our world—at a pace that we don’t seem to be prepared to deal with.
We forget that things like fire and electricity are technologies and tools that we use that required literally centuries to integrate into our societies. We had the benefit of a more casual momentum of adoption with them that we don’t possess with many of the social media technologies that we’re already starting to take for granted. Do we need a ‘fire-department’ for Twitter? Do governments and citizens need plans and policies around social media? Are some of these issues even things we should think about from a National Security perspective? I’m going to place my bets now and say yes.
As the social media infrastructure becomes the medium for communication in our world we need to ensure that checks and balances are in place that allow it to be an open, creditable and verifiable mechanism for communication.
I would say in the realms of technology journalism that this is already a losing battle as a majority of content is simply an eco-chamber of unsubstantiated leaks, emails and punditry that has replaced the critical thinking and commentary that used to dominate the field.
Perhaps in the realms of technology or celebrity journalism these are not deal breakers, but when it comes to world events and the real time reporting of disasters or global crises it certainly is.