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

By: /
October 31, 2011
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

Of course. Democracy and human rights activists are accused of being “cyber-utopians” but it seems clear that inter-connectivity and handheld witnessing technologies are making it tough for dictators to do whatever they want.

Hafez al-Assad could get away with killing at least 10,000 Sunni citizens of Syria in 1982 in the rebellious town of Hama because it wasn’t visible. Today, even with an Internet and telecommunications stranglehold, smuggled satellite phones permit protestors in the besieged towns of Syria to send to the world “netizen” cell phone shots of what is going on.

Exposed individual atrocities become emblematic. The Facebook page “we are all Khaled Said” dedicated to the murdered Egyptian blogger, and the U-Tube images of life ebbing away from killed Iranian protestor Neda Solyan went viral and galvanized the opposition. WikiLeaks enabled open secrets of the Tunisian regime’s corruption to become public truths.

“Netizen” witnessing is equally important in democracies where the natural reflexes of security services are those of secrecy and dissembling: think of the cell phone shots which exposed RCMP lies about the killing of Robert Dziekanski. Right now, any actions police take against Occupy Wall Street protests are going to be seen by millions almost in real time. Celebrate.