Twitter is a social medium that most of us in the United Kingdom, and across Europe and America, take for granted. The instantaneous ability to share information, and pass on news, is an everyday occurrence in what we consider to be the developed world. Twitter flashes us tiny snippets of information, as soon as they happen; we can know exactly what our favourite television presenter or band ate for dinner, or bought from the shops.
This is a phenomenon that is vastly underappreciated by many. Many sigh in complete exasperation at this disregard for privacy, and for boundaries; there seems to be very little that cannot be shared with the World Wide Web, the great secret keeper of the ‘free’ world. Having too much information, in the same way as having too little, can prove detrimental; our bosses can access every facet of our personal lives, if we are indiscreet, and people whom we have never met can access our lives, and invade them, even to the extent that they can injure us. We can feel like we are trapped inside the bubble of the all-knowing; we are constantly having information thrown at us, and we are in turn, constantly sharing information, and often, we are indiscreet, and unaware of the potential dangers of knowing far, far too much.
However, at this juncture, we can consider what it would be like to know nothing; to be forbidden to access the world, a world that continues to progress indiscriminately before our eyes. This is the case in China, and in nations such as North Korea. The ruling powers in these countries censor every element of their people’s lives; North Korea imposes a complete ban on the internet, for most of its inhabitants; only very senior members of the dictatorship are allowed access. North Korea however takes the concept of knowledge and subverts it in a way that Britain has never done, demonstrating how the manipulation of information is perhaps the most dangerous weapon on the planet.
Kim Jong-Il and his son present the nation with a highly emotive personality cult; many North Koreans believe that their leader had the magical ability to change the weather, and that he was a popular political and cultural figure across the globe. China has recently begun to censor social networking sites that were seen to be discussing banned topics; political censorship was also deemed to be rising in places where political unrest was rife. The inhabitants of these two nations are not exposed to the world in its pure and uncut form; one could ask whether they are more protected from the dangers of social networking and the internet as a result.
Censorship across the world is not an automatic process; it is often ideologically driven and dangerous insofar as those that perpetrate the censorship have access to a potentially disastrous amount of information themselves, such as where the internet user lives, their employment status, their marital status. Those who deny others information have such an abundance of it that it is potentially cataclysmic, and enforces a fear culture among the general population. As they say, ignorance is bliss.
Here in the United Kingdom then, we are bombarded with information, all the time; via email, Twitter, Facebook; we are constantly asked to process information. However indiscreet and irrelevant some of this information is, we still have access to it; we still have the ability to discuss whatever it is we wish to, without fear of reprimands, fines, or even death. We are allowed to protest against the bills we don’t want passed, and we are allowed to petition for meetings with senior government officials. These changes have the potential to happen on the basis that we have the ability to access relevant services and legislations that will make change happen; censorship not only denies the discussion of change, but also denies the protestor access to the legislation that would help them.
Information can be tedious, it can be irritating; but this ‘irritating’ environment allows the world to progress; often too quickly, but it manages to progress regardless of whether the government approves of it or not. The significance of democracy is represented in the power of the Twitter network; the power of the pen is no longer the dominant, unquestionable source of power. Now the power of Twitter, and social networking generally, outweighs the power of the newspaper, of the letter, and of the written word altogether.