Some weeks ago I was working on my statement proposal for Masters about the influence social media has on democracy. My main argument was that these new communication tools take the control of information flow from governments and give it to the people, therefore obliging the governments to be more transparent. What I didn’t expect was that even before I could get a response from the universities I applied to, Wikileaks was going to prove this idea by “leaking” 250.000 files from the US administration since 2004. This is considered bigger than the famous Watergate, which you should remember took down a US President.
But it is not only about how many files Wikileaks has. It’s about the conversation social media enables us to have about all those files and how our respective governments are reacting to the leaks. I’m reading an article in El País and at the same time I’m reading on Twitter what is being said about the #cablegate, Wikileaks or Julian Assange. Thousands of people (including journalists, politicians and much more) are sharing their findings in other media the same way I am sharing and commenting on my readings. It’s like the biggest study group ever on international policy and conspiracy. And it involves almost every single country the US has stepped in (which, by the way, seem to be a lot).
Governments will defend themselves by saying that what Wikileaks has done represents an attack to the systems, that it is putting in danger basically the whole world structure. And this is true. Ever since there have been people leading others, the success (or at least the stability) of the leader depends on having unique access to secret information and the subsequent conspiracy. I don’t think anyone will try to deny this fact. It’s just how the world works, not only for governments but also for all organizations and even personal relationships.
Therefore private life, which is were we keep our secrets, is a basic pillar of our society. The problem is that social media, along with other tools and social development, is reducing the “private areas” of our lives to a bare minimum. I’m not talking about people who tweet what they are they having for lunch, but about the fact that anyone can learn about anything (see something in the street, hear it on the bus…) and put it on the Internet in a matter of seconds thanks to Blackberrys and smartphones. Since the six degrees of separation proved we are all closely connected, this means these days it is that much harder to keep things secret even if we try hard.
The issue gets bigger when we look at governments for one simple reason: they need to be trustworthy. That is where their power comes from. They are supposed to represent all of us, to look out for all of us and to treat us equally; so if there is someone from who we should expect transparency, it is precisely our government. But in order to be really transparent, governments (and organizations of any kind) need to have nothing to hide… and that means being honest and good in any decision and action made.
This is where social media seems to be helping us to get, a scenario which apparently everyone in power is scared of. It seems that governments and organizations are so afraid of not being able to get our support by being honest with us that, instead of stepping in and helping the world become more trustworthy, they are working against it.
As John Lennon used to sing, power to the people.