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Twitter doesn’t start a revolution, people do

It is not technology per se that has the power to change the world, but rather the motivations (both good and evil) of the people using it.

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For anyone who ever doubted the saintliness of new technology, here is grisly proof:

“Kill before they kill you. Slaughter before they slaughter you. Dump them in a pit before they dump you.”

That was one of the text messages that fueled interreligious violence in central Nigeria earlier this month. Mosques and churches were torched; hundreds were killed, their bodies burned and dumped in wells and sewage canals.

This is a grim reminder that while greater connectivity and the spread of Internet access can be hugely beneficial to the spread of democracy, there is also a flip side – extremist groups and authoritarian regimes will increasingly co-opt and manipulate new technology for their own end.

Take Rwanda. Speaking in June last year about how foreign policy had been changed by the democratization of the Internet, British Prime Minister Gordon

Brown said referring to the genocide, “You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken.”

By the looks of texts and the violence that ensued recently in Nigeria, Mr. Brown was wrong.

Violence would have spread quicker than it did in 1994, when it was fueled by word of mouth and state-run Hutu radio. These days, hate speech would spread virally through text messages and social networks. Back then few video clips of Tutsi atrocities against Hutus – unspeakable violence against worshipers in a church, for instance – spread virally by mobile phones could have inflamed hatred more effectively than traditional media ever could.

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