Freedom of speech and truth in the digital age

28 September, 2007

People in power today have less say over what the general population see, hear and believe than ever before. This is not just about declining trust in politicians, the papers and mainstream TV though that is undeniably a factor. For instance any politician running a health emergency has to rely on doctors to get information out to the public because the public have a much greater trust of the medical than the political profession.

Today we have the technology so that even people with pretty poor computer literacy can blog or watch video on the web. A little more understanding of the technological processes involved and you have your own online TV channel like 18 Doughty street or CampaignTV. I think it is fair to say that both of these stations have a ideological view point that they wish to push in much to same way as the Guardian or the Telegraph have their own world view.

So with the technological possibilities that we now have there will be a much greater multiplicity of channels. There will be channels for cyclists or political junkies or classical music lovers or hoodies. It wont be so much broadcasting as narrowcasting with the number of truly significant national moments, the sense of shared experience amongst the great multitude of the population, less than before.

Freedom of speech will not only be a central virtue to our common culture, lauded even by the ruling class but will become an unstoppable phenomenon. For instance even the state censorship of the internet by the Chinese communists is far from the total blackout that they would want us to believe. People have an fundamental desire to say what is important to them to other people and the technology today is such that government will find freedom of speech increasingly difficult to control

Truth was what used to be defined by a few newspaper and television editors and the rest of us would passively accept what was dished out. Today and into the future things are going to change. Truth will become increasingly contested as more people have access to means of broadcasting their views.

The real change is from a world where we have to get the permission of a publishing company or editor to get our views out to a world where the biggest challenge is to get people to look at what we have done. This to my mind is not going to make for an environment where cool and reasoned debate is prized above all else.

Indeed it will be an environment where Chinese whispers are played out on a grand scale, where one persons version of events will be around the world before another persons has got its boots on.

Legal redress will be available to those who are willing to pay ever increasing sums to the legal profession whatever the merits of there case. The rest of us will have to rely on our own freedom of speech to protect our reputations. Apparently this is progress and indeed it is of a sort.

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