The rapid extinction of Iran’s bloggers and tweeters shows the vulnerability of any movement that relies on the Internet to help it seriously challenge a ruling elite. But a few years ago the fuel protesters came close to crippling the UK inside 72 hours, without intending to do so. They used only mobile phones and CB radio: then and now social networking technologies of choice for truckers, farmers and taxi drivers.
We need more realistic debate on whether and how the Internet is a tool for supporting democratic debate and decision, a “mere” safety valve, a tool of manipulation and oppression or, like most other technologies from the club and wheel onwards, morally and politically neutral.
A particular area of concern should be the role of the dominant search engines and social networks. Are they (and the pay-per-click advertising industry that funds them) more, or less, trustworthy than the governments who seek to regulate, censor and monitor them: whether directly or via regulatory quangoes of uncertain accountabilty?
This evening I expect to discover whether this is one of the topics that the Class of 2010 would like to discuss during the programme of events that a consortiium of EURIM members is organising. We have 27 prospective parliamentary candidates, from the three main parties, booked in for that today – on the LSE report on the UK’s Digital Road to Recovery.