As brutal and corrupt as many governments can be nowadays, some are oblivious to the fact that the Web empowers the people beyond control. Dictators like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, and Hosny Mubarak of Egypt might like to think that they rule with an iron fist that is virtually impossible to dismantle. While that is certainly close to the truth, little do they know that their technological incompetence and their underestimation of the power of the web is a potentially serious threat.
Egypt, for example, has opened up the press freedom over the past decade, which has encouraged a number of independent newspapers to take the stage. That, along with the exponential technological advancements that the world as a whole has experienced, has left the government thinking that perhaps it has bitten off more than it can chew. In the 80s, the three main papers were all governmental, and any story shared between the three, regardless of it authenticity, become true to the masses. Not only that, but propaganda posters and cartoons were highly effective.
Now the times are-a-changing.
After the horrific sectarian clashes in the south of Egypt, the entire Egyptian blogosphere was talking. Twitter was on fire. Facebook was flooded. And the blogs discussing the issue were scattered all over. That is when Al Ahram, Egypt’s main government-run newspaper, decided to weather the storm. Besides the fact that their website, when it actually works, looks like cow manure reshaped to fit within a computer screen, their approach was older than the president himself:
The “illustration”, which seems to have been scribbled and slapped together by a six year-old with mental illness, depicts the happy Egyptians together celebrating peace and prosperity. A Muslim coming out of a minaret shouts out simultaneously with his Christian counterpart standing on a church tower, “our shared enemy is the devil.” If that’s not enough, the “doves” in between are carrying hearts back and forth to imply unconditional love exchanged by all the peoples. The worst part of it all is that it’s not a joke – Al Ahram genuinely thought they would indirectly fool the crowds into believing that the all is well at the land of the Pyramids.
20 years ago, the cartoon could’ve stood a chance. Now, it could only make matters worse. The main reason being that with access to unlimited and uncensored information between the different people across space and time, old school propaganda has become ineffective. People no longer fall for the idealizing images of brutal dictators, nor photographs of happy citizens enjoying life. Not only does it need to be far more sophisticated, it also needs to be significantly more convincing. After all, there’s a lot of competition, and the web is anyone’s to create and share.
Dictators with over a quarter of a century under their belt might feel safe, but few have hopped on the fast-track trail of the internet and are therefore are not in as much control as they would like to think. For that reason, along with education, health care and infrastructure, internet access should be one of the aspects in the developement of over-exploited nations. Since effective communication is key to any change, the web is absolutely crucial in connecting the people and giving them the power they need to gain equality and justice.
The web has been, and will always be, power to the people – nothing can take that away from it.