The actions of the Wikileaks organization will spark a much needed discussion on the roles of so-called "old" media and "new" media in to the modern environment. Just days before the public disclosure of classified material by the website Wikileaks and three major newspaper hand-picked by Wikileaks, Professor Dennis Murphy asked "Does new media really matter?" The cause of the question is itself interesting:an op-ed by Rhami Khouri titled "When Arabs Tweet" in the most classic "old media" outlets there is, The New York Times. The Times is also one of the three papers chosen by Wikileaks to disseminate initial commentary and analysis on the "Afghan War Diary", as Wikileaks called the over 91,000 documents
Khouri argued that new media has little to no impact as it has "not triggered a single significant or lasting change in Arab or Iranian political culture. Not a single one. Zero." Dennis responds with the big picture view:
Really? Let's see...if you have a dialog about matters of political, national and international import is that just entertainment? Perhaps Khouri is looking for instant gratification (isn't that ironic) through political upheaval. But perceptions change gradually over time. Perhaps this new media thing is opening up cognitive doors to an entire generation of Arab youth. And perhaps the cognitive dissonance will someday reach a point where the passivity will emerge into activism. Or, perhaps the dialog will, at a minimum, provide the variety of ideas that may spill over to the future when it is their turn to lead.
Khouri's mistake, as my colleague Dennis points out, is the focus on immediate payback. True the "passive" online media means support can be expressed by means other than physical exposure, which Khouri describes as "passive". While "new media" is characterized by the speed and persistency of potentially very visceral information, it is still simply a dynamic collection of information mediums in the struggle for minds and wills, and thus is just another element, as Dennis points out, in a broad environment. Flooding the zone with tweets will not itself cause action.
Flooding the zone from multiple sources of varying trustworthiness as well as providing, or merely suggesting, valid opportunities of actions, and you have something else. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking platforms do not cause rebellion, but they can (and do) empower it by building the necessary confidence, trust, and support across groups of individuals that may otherwise not have known so many shared their convictions. This can lead to action in the real world. But the boiling point for action will vary as will the resulting backlash.