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Confab in Silicon Valley: How to move from 'dumb mob' to 'smart mob'

In early March, leading thinkers in the private and public sectors gathered in the epicenter of California's Silicon Valley – Palo Alto –  to take in a bird's eye view of how social media is affecting governance. Social media can empower people, but turning a 'dumb mob' into a 'smart mob' is another matter.

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A security person answers a call at the reception counter of the Google office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad Feb. 6. Internet giants Google and Facebook removed content from some Indian domain websites following a court directive warning them of a crackdown 'like China' if they did not take steps to protect religious sensibilities. How social media will affect government is the question of the century.

Krishnendu Halder/Reuters

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The following themes emerged from a brainstorming session on governance and social media held by the Nicolas Berggruen Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., on March 4. Participants included, among others, Jared Cohen of Google Ideas; Microsoft strategist Charles Songhurst; “The Transparent Society” author David Brin; Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo; MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito; eBay founder Pierre Omidyar; political scientist Francis Fukuyama; and Alec Ross, the US State Department’s top digital diplomat.

1. The destructive phase: disruptive technologies and 'crises of progress'

Disruptive technologies that “augment vision, memory and attention” – from the printing press to the World Wide Web – always produce "crises of progress" because they undermine the “protective guilds,” intermediaries, and institutions that once controlled information and power.

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