Can’t beat us so join us

Sunday, February 18, 2007 at 22:37 | Posted in Blogosphere, civil rights, Freedom of speech, information, internet, web 2.0. | Leave a comment

On Friday I read this CBC news topic about the strict Quebec legislation regulating spending on election campaigns. I intended to write a blog post about it but that did not happen. During the weekend I saw two related posts, one by Farlion and another by Christian in Vienna. All of them relate to Internet and free speech.

Quebec premier Jean Charest is expected to call a general election soon and the province’s electoral officers are expected to issue guidelines on campaign spending, including spending in the Internet. The politicians in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada seem to slowly be realizing that it is possible to campaign in the web without spending a single dollar.

This goes to campaigns by the candidates themselves as well as their individual supporters. In fact, anybody can have a say in the electoral process for the price of their regular web connection. Political contents can easily be uploaded using such tools as YouTube, Google Video or blogs.

Web 2.0. has brought a new dimension to freedom of speech that nobody was able to imagine for 20 years ago. The political and financial establishments had no trouble acknowledging freedom of speech for everybody as long as the voice of the common man in the street was only heard by those the man of the street had physical access to. In order to be heard by millions of people you either needed to be rich or you had to have contacts within the establishments.

My blog could theoretically be read by millions, as well as millions of other blogs written by ordinary persons who are neither rich nor connected to the establishment. While the actual number of people reading my posts counts in the hundreds, in some of the best cases in thousands, I am actually excercising a much larger and more effective freedom of speech than I could imagine of doing for 20 years ago. The same goes for access to sources of information.

Farlion writes about ordinary people whose main source of news and information are their regional newspaper, the German tabloid Bild and the daily newscast of the German public television. Some of them do not use the Internet at all while others may use e-mail and shopping features of the web. Farlion concludes that these are the least informed people he has talked to over a while:

In den letzten zwei Wochen hatte ich mit vielen, vielen Leuten zu tun, die entweder totale Internetverweigerer sind oder das Internet maximal für Mail und Ebay-Einkauf nutzen. Eins hatten beide Gruppen allerdings gemeinsam: ich habe selten so schlecht informierte Leute getroffen, denen das Tagesgeschehen so am Anus vorbeigeht.

In 1970’ies most Finns had access to TV news in two governmental channels. The main newscast was broadcast simultaneously on both channels, just to make sure that everybody saw it. There was one major (privately owned) newspaper and a number of regional papers, most of which where affiliated with one of the main political parties.

I was an active DXer at the time, that is a listener of foreign radio broadcasts on short and medium wave. I noticed already at the time that I have a picture of the current events which is very different from that of most people in Finland. I learned to seek alternative sources of information when I was young. Just imagine what access to all the info in the web means to me.

The reactions of the establishment to the fact that the common people have both access to independent sources and a real possibility to spell out their opinion is interesting. Liberal Quebec candidate Philippe Cannon comments to CBC:

“It certainly is a medium that I am planning on using,” he said.

Cannon said the web will help him reach an unprecedented number of voters. But he said the technology is a double-edged sword because it allows anyone with access to a computer to circulate often unfair criticism without being identified.

Would it not be comfortable for a politician if he or she had access to all the potential of the Internet but the voters did not? In such case they would be able to continue delivering half truths and outright lies. By which I am not suggesting that Philippe Cannon would have done that.

A double-edged sword indeed. A politician caught for a lie must take into account that the lie is likely to be exposed and spread by bloggers, as Christian points out:

Angst vor den Bloggern und Internetnutzern? Nun, zumindest sind wir eine Subkultur die sie nicht unter Kontrolle haben und auch nicht unter Kontrolle kriegen. Wird einer verklagt schreien 20 und machen Radau, kommt ein Gesetz das nicht ok ist, wird es bei den Bloggern erklärt und breitgetreten und gezeigt das es Schwachsinn ist und worin die Folgen liegen. Redet ein Politiker Mist, wird es in den Blogs verbreitet, und lügt er, so sind wir sein Gewissen.

The Internet can not be regulated although some politicians have not yet realized it. There is no going back to the old times when access to free information and the real freedom of speech were limited to a small establishment. More and more people are going to detect that they truly have access to all the essential information in the World and they are going to learn how to excercise their freedom of speech.

Trying to fight back the flow of free ideas is fruitless. Millions of people are taking advantage of their newly discovered civil liberties and millions and millions of others are soon bound to do the same. The political and financial establishments can not beat us so the next best thing in their point of view is to join us.

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