The American/Western way of life has, for the past 100 years, been powerfully displayed through traditional media. This is not to say that it’s necessarily the best way of life, according to some, but the enshrined ideals of capitalism, liberty, fraternity and democracy have become popular around the world (feelings of imperialism, colonialism and cultural hegemony notwithstanding).
But whether all countries around the world wish to embrace so-called “Western” ideals, if something needs to be said by the majority of a country’s peoples, there will be no stopping it. In the past, the government of Iran tried to muzzle its people’s expressions of freedom as regards their political system, forcing the debate underground where no government can control social media and digital devices (at least not completely). The Arab Spring became a cause celebre when people took their grievances not just to the street but also to their smart phones.
In our own backyard here in SA, the Rhodes Memorial debate has raged back and forth on Facebook, with those for and against the faeces flinging. The xenophobia has also received much needed coverage on social media, as has the plight of animals all over the world, with their inhumane treatment exposed online.
The integration of traditional and new media means that news spreads three times as quickly, with everyone becoming a citizen journalist and a commentator.
What does this mean for countries or areas where freedom of speech is restricted, and outbursts against the government will not be tolerated? Well, probably more than we realise. Dissidents will number in the tens of thousands instead of the hundreds, media to be quashed and silenced will be global and based everywhere, not just at one TV station. It may well become harder to wash the people’s brains, and instil in them fear and suspicion.
Yes, perhaps the fragmentation of media means the democratisation of public opinion, and the freedom for people to make their own decisions in a more informed manner.