Lecture talks WikiLeaks and subsequent protests for democracy – DRAFT

By: Brittany McDaniel, news editor

Ben Fenwick, coordinator of public affairs, discussed the significant impart technology has on democracy, Wed., Feb. 23, during the Great Issues Lecture Series, posing the question, “Does technology help democracy?”

At the heart of the discussion was the current uprising of protestors in the Middle East. The highly publicized release of U.S. classified documents sparked the discussion of corruption within government. This hit certain countries hardest, where democracy runs low on the list of priorities. Autocracies, monarchies and dictators of the Arab world took a hard hit from an angry public.

The government in Tunisia was the first to tumble from the combined efforts of the people. U.S. Embassy cables described the Tunisian regime with regard to problems with corruption in its form of government. The cable read, “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression…and serious human rights problems.” It went on to read that the problem was with the fact that one president ruled the nation for over 20 years, used police force as a form of damage control and lost touch with the Tunisian people.

In essence, the cable publicly stated something the Tunisian people were already aware of. In releasing this information to the public, WikiLeaks allowed for a sort of conversation to take place among the citizens. Information such as this was released through several other cables relating to similar countries. This in turn began a revolution that made its way through Tunisian, spilling into Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. Other countries such as Jordan, Yemen, Iran, Algeria and Iraq also began talking of regime reform on the social media site Twitter.

Fenwick showed an interactive map with recent tweets from journalists concerning protests in the Arab world and the Middle East. This technology worked not only to sound off the events going on, but also to connect people with the information instantaneously. Likeminded people were able to connect and form an organized front with the aid of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Fenwick reminded the audience that the uprising abroad affected not just the people of the nations undergoing democracy in action. Jenan El-Bakoush, secretary of public relations and marketing, spoke of family members living in Libya. Her uncle was taken to a police station and questioned, then later released as protestors overtook the station.  She remarked that seeing democracy in action was both inspiring and frightening when she thought of how this affected the people in a country her own family once called home.

The Middle Eastern protests are not an isolated incident. The U.S. too is facing an era of change, and with it, citizens utilizing their individual rights to protest.  Fenwick ended his lecture with the question, “So what comes next? Are we at the two percent mark of what is to come?”

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