Jones: Could the spread of information via digital media reduce mass atrocities?

By: /
31 October, 2011
By: Bruce Jones
Director and Senior Fellow of the NYU Center on International Cooperation

Yes; or make them worse.

Most technologies are content free. The history of media – especially widely distributed media – is that it can power social forces both good and ill. Political entrepreneurs will race to use them for mobilization – whether for social justice, or mass atrocity, remains to be seen. Radio, for example, was the most widely distributed media in Africa when it was used by Rwanda’s genocidaire to mobilize, harass, and intimidate people into participating in genocide.  

On the positive side, cellphone technologies can empower individual people to report on incipient atrocities. Or to avoid dangers – in Haiti, families used text messages to warn one another where gangs were loitering, reducing risks.

Social mobilization has always been part of mobilization and revolution. In the Italian Risorgimento, revolutionaries painted “Verdi” in town squares – an innocuous graffiti in support of the famous composer, to authorities; secretly, a coded rallying cry for the usurper “Viva Emmanuelle, Re d’Italia”.

Technology changes. The struggle between oppression and justice continues.

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