Webs We’ve Weaved

While reading through Evgeny Morozov’s critical take on the role of the internet, I came across this ope-ed by Trevor Butterworth for The Daily.

Butterworth’s argument is similar to Morozov’s in this way: the internet is more of a dangerous tool for unruly rulers than a helpful one for democracy-spreaders. He imagines the internet in the hands of the National Socialist Party under Hitler, with an interesting precedent:

…the Nazis didn’t just love technology, they regarded Technik as central to promulgating National Socialism. By 1939, over 70 percent of German households – the highest percentage in the world — had radios…

Churchill vs. Hitler: Scissors beats paper.

 

Building on a previous argument, the internet as a tool might be more like gunpowder than a hammer; it’s great for providing and protecting the family, but even better for taking other people’s stuff.

In a world where information is becoming (if not already) a premium currency, controlling access to that information is even more valuable than the information itself. If a modern Hitler (the genuinely evil type) and his proficient propaganda machine had web pages and blogs to build support, they might have more effectively reached across the ocean to potential (ostensibly fringe, but perhaps not) allies.

Could Nazi propaganda have created enough unrest in the United States to inhibit our ability to join the War in Europe? Perhaps some of the extremist behavior we see in modern U.S. politics would have manifested itself in a meaningful way during the Great Depression.

If Hitler had a blog accessible to the American public, would FDR have faced a serious, fringe opponent a-la Sarah Palin? (Palin is absolutely not a Nazi, but she does represent an element that might not have so strong and persistent a voice were it not for online politics…)

Conversely (depending who you ask), would we have a black President if it weren’t for the internet? Obama’s ability to mobilize “the network” is largely credited for his meteoric rise.  Lucky for us that he doesn’t seem to be as evil or corruptible as his opponents would have us believe…

I suppose this means I’m hanging my hat in Morozov’s (and Butterworth’s) corner. The internet, as a tool, is as helpful or dangerous as the uses we apply to it. That scares me, a little.

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