Every so often I feel the need to write a post about the democratising effect that social media is having on the world, and on the back of what has happened in Egypt over the last week or two I want to write one today. For the first time since the industrial revolution just about everyone who wants one has a public voice, and it has become impossible for governments and corporations to control the media (with the possible exception of China and a couple of other countries in Asia). As a result it is increasingly difficult for anyone to pretend things are other than they really are. Any and all problems (and good things too) get quickly into the public domain and widely communicated, which is placing an increasing premium on honesty, integrity and simply doing the right thing.
The tools for this public voice are the web services we all know and love, like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and so on.
As I’m sure you are aware Twitter played a key role in recent events in Egypt and last year in Iran, but it goes much further than that, as the American Ambassador to the UN put it in a speech at the Twitter HQ yesterday:
“You are doing amazing work. I hope you have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s having real time real impact in parts of the world as far flung as Zimbabwe, where I just learned you have 66,000 users, to of course the Middle East and so many other parts of the world.
You should be very proud. An American and as a policymaker, I am very proud of you and proud to be here.”
The influence of social media must be pervasive if Ambassadors to the UN are talking about it!
This is just the beginning. At the moment information is spread peer to peer through the networks but over the last twelve months more and more social media properties are making their data available for third parties to interrogate and analyse, often via licenses to ‘firehoses’ of updates. Companies, many of them startups, are now building the tools which will allow insight to be regularly and easily drawn from what is today largely an unstructured and impenetrable mass of data. At the moment it the customers for these tools are largely companies looking to understand and react to what people are saying about their product, and to an extent governments, but it won’t be long before the media start getting hold of it, and then we really will be in a world where it becomes vanishingly hard to maintain a perception that is different to reality over any length of time.
There will, of course, be problems on the way and social media can also be manipulated, at least for a while, but overall I see this as a hugely positive development.