Monday, February 21, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) No, Twitter - or Amazon - are not good or evil

This morning, I saw a tweet from Dion Hinchcliffe that got me thinking:

Watching the Middle East & N. Africa news today, it's fascinating to see how social media has helped trigger a major regional transformation

And a little later, I saw a post from Dave Winer that included this comment:

When Amazon kicked WikiLeaks off, without adequate explanation, they did far more damage to their own rep than they did to WikiLeaks. Everyone knew WikiLeaks is a hot potato. What we didn't know is how little heat it would take Amazon to dump one of their customers. It would be one thing to stand up to repeated court orders and finally cave. But in this case, there wasn't even a judgment against WikiLeaks. They kicked them off because it suited them. And that killed Amazon as an environment for journalism.

It's important to note what Hinchcliffe and Winer are saying, and what they are not saying. (Or at least I hope they're not saying.)

Twitter the tool is not inherently good. Amazon the tool is not inherently evil. (Of course, one can have an opinion on the goodness or badness of the COMPANIES named Twitter and Amazon.)

But the tools themselves are amoral entities. I can use Twitter to tell people about a peaceful demonstration, or I can use Twitter to command crazed followers to damage society. I can upload evidence of government wrongdoing to Amazon, or I can upload information to Amazon that will endanger the lives of people.

Of course, this same perspective on tools applies to tools from earlier centuries. I can use atomic power to take lives, or I can use atomic power to take lives. I can use a printing press to enlighten humankind, or I can use a printing press to enslave humankind.

And, of course, it all depends upon perspective. Every one of my examples above describes the same event - it's just how we perceive the event that classifies it as good or evil.

Take the tweet. While some people look at a peaceful demonstration as a symbol of freedom, others (namely those in power) look at the same event as damaging to society. If you don't believe me, consider how you would react if a peaceful demonstration occurred just outside of your house, blocking your driveway, keeping you from going to work or school.

Take my atomic example. There's an ongoing debate among historians, some of whom say that the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the most evil thing ever done by a human against another human, while others (including buck-stopping Harry S Truman himself) maintained that the bombs were necessary to avoid the massive loss of life that would have occurred from a ground invasion of the Japanese islands.

So before you go out and declare that Twitter saved the world, or that Amazon enslaved it (or vice versa), remember that Twitter and Amazon did no such thing.

Paraphrasing something that U.S. Second Amendment supporters say, Twitter doesn't free people. People do.
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