Friday, 11 February 2011

Twitter and Trotsky (or why Stalin would have hated the Internet....)

I'm reading a book at the moment that I've been planning to read for a long time – The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I don't think I even realised what it was about, but it's just one that I've seen in the shops again and again and thought that I'd enjoy. So when I got some Amazon vouchers for the Kindle, it seemed like an obvious choice!

Anyway, it's a good book so far (get it from Amazon here if you're interested!), documenting the journals of a young boy growing up in Mexico who, through a series of events, ends up working for the group of people who shelter Trotsky in the late 1930's after he is expelled from the Soviet Union.

I studied history at GCSE and A-Level, but the Russian history that we examined tended to look more at Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev than Trotsky. I think there was a reference to him moving to Mexico for a while, before he's ultimately murdered (with a pick-axe if my memory serves me). Obviously I haven't reached that bit in The Lacuna yet ;-)

But what does this have to do with Twitter, I hear you ask? Well, in the section of the story I've just been reading, Trotsky is put on trial in Mexico. Up until this point, the dictatorship in Moscow has been able to fabricate charges and falsely accuse Trotsky of all kinds of crimes, most of them blatantly false (e.g. de-railing trains when he wasn't even in the country). It made me think – could that happen now?

We've just seen the power of Twitter with the Egyptian protests. Suppression of the press may still be possible, but it's now incredibly hard to a create a total blanket on information getting out of a country. Even turning off the Internet didn't help the Egyptian authorities. I firmly believe that this can only be a positive thing.

Here's a statistic for you - In India, 11% of people do not have an indoor toilet, but over 85% have access to a mobile phone. I imagine that figure is pretty representative of a number of other developing countries too – I remember even 5 years ago in Ghana this was the case. This prevalence of access to communications makes it so much easier to get information out of and around a country. All of which makes the suppression of “the press” so much harder. You can't just pay off a couple of people now – someone, somewhere, will call you out on it.

Zola (not the former Chelsea and Italy footballer...) “said that the mendacity of the press could be divided into two groups: the yellow press lies every day without hesitating. But others speak the truth on all inconsequential occasions, so they can deceive the public with the requisite authority when it becomes necessary.” - The Lacuna

I don't think in today's age of information freedom that this is anywhere near as true. Wikileaks, twitter, information finds a way to get out into the public domain and once it is there, no-one can stop it.

That can only be a good thing. Unless you're someone like Stalin....

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