Political impact of computer and information technology
May 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
It is undoubtedly true that the birth of computer has shaped the world that we live today. The advance in information and technology as well as the rise of social media gave a very significant change in the nature of our everyday lives. Politic is one of the very aspect that directly affected by this current trend. Political change that we see in these couples of years have a very strong relationship with the information empowerment thanks to the computer, information technology and the social media. As Wael Ghonim, Egyptian Google Executive said “If you want to liberate a society, just give them the Internet”.
Political liberation: The Arab Spring
As society encounter with more information in the internet and government failure to censor and filter mass information and news, we saw radical change in the Middle East. The long standing frustration of the society with the authoritarian rule in many of the Arab countries catalyzed by the social media gave birth to the political revolution, some even called these revolutions as social media revolution, because of the significant role of social media in these events. These revolutions that happen were mainly peaceful at the beginning turn violent as the government responded.
Although these revolutions became known in 2010, the development started much earlier. Activist use online platform to organize rallies to oppose government policies. Egypt for example saw hundreds of street protest in major cities between 2004 and 2010. These protest were largely influenced by Egypt’s small but robust blogging community (Al-Malky, 2007).
These online campaigns aimed for social, economical and political change is often suppressed by the government and saw many of the activists were jailed. But the nature of the computer technology and internet gave the activist the upper hand. Because now, you don’t have to be in Tunisia to organize a protest in Tunisia, and that give the people more power. This is a true case, in Tunisia where activist are vulnerable to harassment and imprisonment by the government, activist used online computer platform to organize protest far away from their homeland. The famous anti government Tunisian blog, Nawaat for example, was operated in France by Sami Ben Gharbeia who lived in exile (Faris, 2012). The computer technology gave the people the ability to communicate beyond states boundaries.
The crucial role played by the social media that facilitate the revolution is because of the fact that the social media is rooted deeply in everyday structures of life. This revolt cause by digital activism is true even in the developing world (Faris, 2012).
But there are still a debate regarding these Arab Spring revolutions. Many disputes the fact that it is a social media revolution rather the social media just a facilitating tool for the revolution. These facilitating roles includes gathering real time information during the event and also facilitating the weak communication ties cause by the physical distant and socially diverse relationship across the globe (Chebib and Sohail, 2011). Some critic disagree in total the notion of social media revolution. They argue that social media that were born from computer and information technology cannot lead to mass mobilization. People do risky things not because some distant acquaintance is doing so, they only act when individuals in their immediate, most trusted circles does so (Gladwell, 2010).
Although the debate is still ongoing about the cause of these revolutions, nobody can deny the fact that social media which is a product from computer played crucial roles to push for political change in the event of Arab Spring. The cause can be disputed, but the nature of empowerment gave by the social media in facilitating, organizing and spreading the information cannot be denied. It is clear that computer gave a significant impact to the change of political system in these current years.
Computer is not only impacting on how government should treat it fellow citizens regarding the policies and rule of law, to ensure the society live in harmony and peace. The rise of online platform also provokes the government to review its mostly confidential practice, to a more transparency one. And as the online platform connecting more people there is now a term ‘netizen’ appearing.
A Netizen (a Net Citizen) is define as a citizen of the world thanks to the global connectivity that the Net makes possible. Everyone consider everyone as compatriot. Although people physically live in different countries but they are in contact with much of the world via the global computer network. Virtually peoples live next door to every other single Netizen in the world. Geographical separation is replaced by existence in the same virtual space (Hauben, 1998).
The appearances of these Netizens have develop a whole new concept which demand government base on physical boundaries held accountable for its action. It also push government to be more transparent especially with issue related with greater global good. These trend is clearly been seen for the case of Julian Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, the website that expose large amount of government wrongdoing. Assange were responsible for the release of the US confidential document regarding Afghanistan war logs, Iraq war logs, and Guantanamo files.
This case attract many global reaction, although governments especially the US consider the act as act of criminal for exposing the document, major fellow netizen consider the action as act of hero that help spread the truth and promote more transparency for any governmental action.
Similar case of exposing governmental misconduct happen in 2013 when Edward Snowden released classified material which includes global surveillance programs run by US and its allies. These cases were a few examples on how computer help facilitate the transparency of any government. Classified files are becoming accessible and easily been leaked with the help of internet thanks to computer. If the government failed to be transparent, in times the document have a high chance been leaked and publicized with current advance in computer technology. This leakage of information is now viewed more as act of heroism for global greater goods, as Slavoj Zizek wrote in his article, Edward Showden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes in The Guardian on September 2013:
“This is why whistleblowers play a crucial role in keeping the “public reason” alive. Assange, Manning, Snowden, these are our new heroes, exemplary cases of the new ethics that befits our era of digitalized control.”
Politic is going digital
The growth of social media and rapid adoption of internet-enabled mobile device have changed the way peoples engage in the political process. According to Pew research center’s Internet & American Life Project in 2012, 12% of online adults say they regularly use Facebook to get campaign news. The research also noted that 36% of US adults regularly get campaign news using internet in October 2012, a significant 27% increase in just 9 month.
Politic which highly depend on public perception using media is also affected with the computer technology. Traditional media outlet in a less democratic country, such as newspaper and tv channel, often required license from the government. This will produced a bias mainstream media that often stood on the government sides.
With the internet and social media popping on, alternative online news outlet becomes more prominent. Peoples are now less relying on newspaper and tv channel and shifting on information and news from blog and online news platform. In Malaysia for example, Malaysiakini news portal which often criticized the government attract almost 50 million users, which make it a mainstream media in the internet.
The advance of computer technology have change the nature of how people get information regarding political issue. For any political party to thrive in the coming years they must have a good control of this new media platform.
Although computer gave birth to internet, easy access of information and alternative media. It also vulnerable for information manipulation. People can fake a photo, write a misleading article, and spread deceiving news with less accountability and more easily than before.
The media manipulation is true even before the birth of computer, but with computer the spreading of such misleading and deceiving information spread with increasing speed and more widely. The computer aided, catalyzed, and facilitated the spread of wrong information.
In the old days, we only had a few threats to fear when it came to media manipulation, the government propagandist and the hustling publicist. They were serious threats, but vigilance worked as a clear and simple defense. They were the exceptions rather than the rule—they exploited the fact that the media was trusted and reliable. Today, with our blog and web driven media cycle, nothing can escape exaggeration, distortion, fabrication and simplification (Holiday, 2012).
We believe the web is a boon to democracy because it gains us access to more information, more empowerment, and more opportunities for social activism. But the truth is the web does not free us from information bias, conflicts, manipulation, and sensationalism. To believe otherwise is not only naïve but also utopian (Teh, 2013).
Although the internet gave a good new platform for alternative news it must also be used with caution as there is no regulatory body that control the authenticity of the information.
- Al-Malky, Rania, “Blogging For Reform”, Arab Media and Society, No. 1, Spring 2007.
- David M. Faris, “Beyond Social Media Revolutions: The Arab Spring and the Networked Revolt.”” Politique étrangère, Spring 2012: 99-109. (Fr.)
- Chebib, N. and Sohail, R. (2011). The Reasons Social Media Contributed to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. International Journal of Business Research and Management, 2 (2):139-162.
- Gladwell, Malcolm, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted”, The New Yorker, October 4th, 2010.
- Hauben, Michael, and Ronda Hauben. “The Net and Netizens: The Impact of the Net on People’s Lives (Chapter 1).” First Monday 3.7 (1998).
- Slavoj Žižek, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes, The Guardian, 3 September 2013.
- Aaron Smith, Digital Politics: Pew Research findings on technology and campaign 2012
- Ryan Holiday, What is Media Manipulation? A Definition and Explanation, Forbes 2012.
- Christopher Teh Boon Sung, Manipulating the net: How much can we trust what we read on the net? June 5th 2013.