The digital Cold War: Information is the new electoral ballot

The digital Cold War: Information is the new electoral ballot

Summary: Could the next Cold War-style conflict be a resolution of next-generation citizens, using their weapon of choice, the Internet?


With sociology being a modestly vague social science, the shift to the world wide web and the wider world - the world we see nowadays without tangible borders - generates understanding of how powerful citizens have become since only a few decades ago.

While my colleague Chris Jablonski considers the acts of space warfare to be likely as soon as in 2025, we are to face even sooner, if not imminently, a revolution of Internet power which brings back the power to the people through a collective of individual actions.

The web in collective form - citizens and ordinary people - are the biggest threat to their own governments and in repressed areas including but not mutually exclusive to China, Burma and Iran, the Internet is putting power back into the hands of those who's electoral vote has been reduced to mere political hyperbole.

With the 2009 Iran elections as the best given case, twenty years after the country's revolution which saw the entire political landscape change, citizens were reporting from inside their own boundaries. Through reporting the uprising and surge of governmental repression through social media and the wider web, replacing the blocked state-run media, the world became engrossed and astounded with the goings on.

Stephen Fry, freedom of Internet advocate and widely respected all-round gentleman, described Twitter in a recent BBC documentary series, as not only a social medium where one can spread inane self-indulged "news" about themselves, but recognised the further power of the socially interconnecting community:

"A social network probably couldn't bring down a regime, but it certainly helps as it spreads ideas".

And as censorship becoming a wider issue, though not restricted to repressive regimes, younger citizens who are feeling starved of truth and unrestricted knowledge are becoming more aware of the censors and what is specifically being held back, even though the content isn't loading. China's "50 Cent Army" spreads communist propaganda internally, promoting the political good of the party in power but acting in a way which results in looking like public-relations self-harm.

In the end, it falls down to simply that - public relations or "PR 2.0" - using the web as a tool to keep people on side. For now, a lull in the impending storm sees a standoff between the government and the citizen; a relic of the Cold War holding back to be used as the first move.

As I see it today, in 2010 at this very moment of minutes and seconds, the next major battle we will see from a Cold War stand-offish way, exploding into a World War fashion will be through the use of the web. In repressive regimes, the next-generation will revolt and the democratic world will help. Governments may not, as they could not necessarily be seen to. But in a time of Internet battles, nationality will be almost entirely negated and the aftermath will redraw the map of the new digital world.

This imminent rise of brewing tension and political reform will be seen in our lifetime as it will be us, the next-generation, the student and the Generation Y who takes on this challenge as our own.

Topics: Browser, Government, Government US

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  • good stuff

    Good points Zack. Very exciting times to live through.

    Another component that MUST change is the UN. It's completely out of step with the times. A nation like France (20th in population ranking) has a permanent seat in the powerful security council, yet a nation like India (2nd most populous nation) has zip. This too must change if the UN is to every have any credibility.

  • Doubtful

    Any electronic medium that allow the spread of ideas also
    allows the ability to TRACK the spread of those ideas.
    Any meaningful revolution requires direct person-to-
    person communication with no record left behind.
    • RE: Doubtful

      Fortunately for all of us the technology for hiding messages tends to stay ahead of the technology for intercepting them. And in some cases you can overwhelm the oppressive government by shear numbers.

  • Hyperbole, indeed

    Iran and China are using information gathered online to find, incarcerate, torture, and execute their political oppositions. The same thing is going on in the US, although we seem to be a bit more subtle about it.

    I'm not convinced by this article's Pollyanna tone.