Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets. –Napoleon Bonaparte
If Bonaparte could only see how the news media has changed since his time. Today, it’s not just newspapers that world leaders worry about. It’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter that are having an influence in framing public discourse. For better or for worse, the Internet is proving to be one of the most revolutionary technologies in human history. Social media, like the printing press, has played a central role in political, religious and military uprisings by decentralizing the flow of information. There are fewer gatekeepers and more disseminators of information who are not bound by political correctness or journalistic standards of practice.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East right now. An anti-Islam film trailer shot in the U.S. has incited violent demonstrations against consulates and embassies in the region. The Arab Spring movement last year might have democratized the media landscape, but for a region accustomed to state-controlled media, a lack of censorship of the trailer on the part of the United States is perceived as direct support by the government.
Social media has the power to turn a homeless man into a sought after voiceover actor. It can help reject the acceptance of bullying in our schools. However, we also must be mindful that our words, more than ever, can have far-reaching negative consequences. Our thoughts are with our diplomats around the world who are waging a battle on two fronts: the real threat of violence and the battle to win over the hearts and minds of the global community.