The Internet has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, a move that, while controversial, serves to remind people that the web has the potential to create a better society, says a local journalism professor.
The nomination was made by Italy’s version of Wired Magazine, which credited the web’s contributions to “dialogue, debate and consensus through communication.”
Alfred Hermida, a journalism professor at the University of B.C. with an interest in new media, said the Internet has created a platform for citizen journalism and provides both “now information” and an incredible archive.
“We’re getting information not just from Metro, CBC or the Globe (and Mail) but from blogs ... YouTube and Twitter.”
He said the web helps expose issues that would otherwise have been kept a secret.
Thousands of Iranians used Twitter to spread word about riots in Tehran and Facebook to unite Persians around the world in a form of online protest last summer. A YouTube video of a young Iranian woman being shot to death in the street galvanized sympathizers and exposed a reality that may otherwise have been censored.
“We have seen examples where it is having positive impacts, but I’d qualify it by saying that at the same time this is a technology we can use for negative,” Hermida said.
He pointed out that radio is not typically seen as a weapon, but during the Rwandan conflict it was used to encourage genocide.
While the Internet was used to facilitate citizen journalism and organize protests during the Iranian conflict, it was also used by that country’s government to identify and threaten detractors.
Richard Smith, a professor at Simon Fraser University and an expert on social media, said that Wired Magazine, while well intentioned, is attributing intentionality to a device with none.
“The problem with this is that it kind of demeans the prize,” he said.
“The Internet — while useful for peaceful purposes — could also be misused for war. After all, the U.S. Department of Defence Advanced Research Projects was the source original funding and support for the Internet research.”