“Three Digital Myths”

Three digital myths
by Christian Christensen

The release of the Afghan War Diaries on Wikileaks,
with stories published in The Guardian, the New York
Times and Der Spiegel by agreement with Wikileaks, has
made news around the world. Le Monde Diplomatique, in
conjunction with Owni and Slate.fr, have also made the
documents available online via a dedicated website. The
security implications of the leaked material will be
discussed for years to come. Meanwhile the release of
over 90,000 documents has generated debate on the
rising power of digital journalism and social media.
Many of the discussions are rooted in what I call
internet or digital myths — myths which are rooted in
romantic, deterministic notions of technology.

Myth 1: The power of social media

Media experts and commentators are commonly asked what
the Wikileaks case tells us about the power of social
media in contemporary society, particularly in the
coverage of war. There is nothing wrong with this
question, but it does illustrate a troubling tendency
to place all forms of social media (blogs, Twitter,
Facebook, YouTube, Wikileaks) under the same huge
umbrella. The myth is that social media are homogenous
by virtue of their technologies. But Wikileaks is
nothing like Twitter or YouTube. What separates it from
other forms of social media is the review process that
submitted material must go through in order to be
posted to the site. This might seem like a detail, but
it strikes at the heart of “techo-utopian” notions of
an “open commons” where anyone and everyone can post
(almost) anything for all to read, hear and see.

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