This year has demonstrated a new and unprecedented power in the world. A power that can define a social standard overnight. These social standards range from broad issues of personal destiny to expectations of accountability in business and journalism. The Internet has come into its own and is a force to be reckoned with.
The Arab Spring was mobilized around a unified expression of freedom. This expression was not defined in a committee or in back room dealings. The Arab Spring was at least partially mobilized over social networks on the Internet. By the time some dictatorships realized what was happening it was already too late. Even shutting off the Internet could not stop what had started. Perhaps the Internet only played an incidental role in these revolutions but it's effect is difficult to dispute.
When "Big Media" attempted to redefine the Internet to further increase its riches, there was swift and vicious response against GoDaddy and anyone that supported SOPA and PIPA. To me, this was a quick re-defining of a new social standard by millions of small voices. Often, what is right or wrong is defined by a cultural heritage bound by generations of people testing limits and suffering consequences. The Internet age has changed the time scale. Today, right and wrong can be decided in hours.
A few days ago the Komen Foundation announced plans to cancel funding for Planned Parenthood. Even a decade ago, this would have been met with a few angry phone calls but ultimately the implications would only be felt years later. In today's world, the Komen foundation announced, defended, retracted and apologized within a few days. Large groups of people organized on social networks and blogs to define a new social standard and exercised their power immediately.
This immense power is not just directed at Titans. Retribution has recently been directed at Violet Blue, an insignificant sort of writer plentiful on the Internet. Ms. Blue made the mistake of reporting without investigating and getting caught. She was aiming for a sensational headline about the tragedy of the Macworld show. Instead, she made a spectacular show of her own tragedy. Within a day of the exposure, the same power that brought down dictators and senators was unloaded on a minor writer. Ms. Blue is mistaken when she concludes this is about fanboy-ism. I think what she has seen is hostility toward the state of media. I can only speak for myself, but my tolerance for lies and deception in the media has reached a limit. I doubt I'm alone. What Ms. Blue experienced was a backlash from a group that can, and does, decide right and wrong within minutes. A group that can define a social standard without the necessity for precedent or authority.
On the whole, I think the Internet is the next step in cultural evolution. It's creating communities out of people thousands of miles away. It's empowering people that would have never had a voice at any other time in history. I think an unanticipated1 consequence is the rapid and absolute responses towards perceived wrongs. I'm not sure it that is bad, but I am sure everyone should start thinking about consequences a bit more.
As if anything with the Internet could have been anticipated. ↩