Give Peace a Tweet

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this week; it went to Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who is currently languishing in jail for his efforts. It’s hard to argue with the committee’s decision (unlike last year), but part of me was rooting for one of the other nominees, the Internet.

Riccardo Luna, editor-in-chief of the Italian edition of Wired, is one of the proponents of the Internet for Peace Manifesto, and writes persuasively of the Net as “the first weapon of mass construction … day after day, search after search, tweet after tweet, it is laying the foundation of a new era where sharing, common knowledge and mutual respect will prevail”.

Regular readers will know that we have previously noted the Internet’s capacity to bring out the worst in human nature, and it’s hard to see the network as an unimpeachable force for good when one reads about things like this. We’ve also been sceptical about the Net’s much-touted ability to galvanise social and political movements, and pointed out that it is just as likely to further ignorance and division by allowing people to receive only the information that they want to hear.

Despite all this, I do think that the Internet can live up to the vision that Luna outlines. The key thing to recognise is that the Net, like any other medium of communication, does not exist in isolation from the social relations that produce it. As long as we live in a system that is based on the exploitation of the masses by a ruling elite the Internet will reflect the power imbalances, along lines of class, gender and race, that exist in our society, with all the ills that accompany them.

Once we reach a form of social organisation that eliminates all these injustices – in other words, once we have world communism – then the Internet, like humanity itself, will be able to attain its true potential. Until then I think the accolades will have to wait.

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