Tag Archives: genocide

A hashtag for genocide: Twitter, the Iran elections and the moral ambivalence of social media

We raised this subject in the wake of the Georgia revolution, but it’s worth bringing up again. In the light Twitter’s starring role in the current election protests in Iran, there’s much talk of the power of social media as a catalyst and enabler for social change, but as Jamais Cascio points out, the morality of a tool depends on the people wielding it… and it’s not hard to imagine it being put to much darker uses, much as other media have been before.

Not because I have any sympathy for Iran’s government, I should hasten to say, or because I see any threat coming from this particular use of Twitter. It scares me because of how close it aligns with something I noted in my talk at Mobile Monday in Amsterdam earlier this month, an observation that happened almost by accident.

In noting the potential power of social networking tools for organizing mass change, I thought out loud for a moment about what kinds of dangers might emerge. It struck me, as I spoke, that there is a terrible analogy that might be applicable: the use of radio as a way of coordinating bloody attacks on rival ethnic communities during the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s. I asked, out loud, whether Twitter could ever be used to trigger a genocide. The audience was understandably stunned by the question, and after a few seconds someone shouted, “No!” I could only hope that the anonymous reply was right, but I don’t think he was.

Certainly a point worth considering; no doubt there’ll be a backlash – against Twitter, or whatever the latest flavour-of-the-moment equivalent is at the time – once more people start asking the same questions as Cascio has. It should be a self-evident truth, but we need to remember that technology alone won’t make the world a better place; it’s up to us to use it in the right ways.