Fareed Zakaria had a short, instructive, piece on his GPS CNN show today – October 18, 2009 (see video below) – about the new Taliban YouTube station, Istqlalmedia. This brings home a crucial point I make in “The Dark Side of New New Media” (chapter 13, appropriately enough, of New New Media, published in September): the same access to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook which allows protesters to get out word about government abuse and crackdowns – as with the protesters in Iran this past June – can also be used by terrorists to plan attacks, and by terrorist groups to ply propaganda.
The general principle here is that all technologies are like knives – they can be used to cut food, in the hands of good people, and used to cut people, in the hands of the bad. Actually, in the hands of a surgeon, a knife that cuts is a good thing. But a pillow, presumably innocent, can be used to suffocate someone. And a gun, often used for bad purposes, can be a valuable weapon against crime, or just to hunt food. The ultimate value or danger of any technology, in other words, depends upon how we humans use it.
New new media are no different. Terrorists may have coordinated their attacks via texting in the attack on Mumbai last year. The U.S. Army warned about the use of Twitter by terrorists in a report at the end of last year.
Zakaria raised another significant point – a prime irony – about the Taliban YouTube station. They are group at war with the modern age, using one of the most salient media of the modern age on behalf of their battle. This is an hypocrisy which critics of technology, criminal and civilized, have long been subject to. Jacques Ellul wrote a now classic book, Propaganda, in which he argued that all media – including products of the printing press – were intrinsically, inevitably, and always vehicles of propaganda. So why we should pay any attention to Ellul’s inevitably propagandistic book?
But we do, and the Taliban YouTube station will likely get lots of views. In the end, the best we can do is use the advantages of new new media to call these hypocrisies out.
What's Newer Than New New Media, Post 1, about Amazon, 1984, and the Kindle
What's Newer Than New New Media, Post 2, FTC Wrong to Fine Deceitful Bloggers