It now seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that a new age of participatory media is changing the world, and not least the world in which dictators and all manner of repressive regimes operate.
How profound is this new landscape — in which cheap, anyone-can-use recording devices transmit vivid images around the world, crisscrossing high-speed communications networks for shared viewing by thousands or even millions of people? “It is unimaginable, had there been [personal] cameras in Auschwitz, that the world would have permitted the Holocaust to go forward,” David Gergen, the CNN political analyst who worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton administrations, said in an interview. “We would have understood the face of evil.”
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Consider his point. The Nazis, no doubt, would have confiscated any image-taking device from their doomed prisoners. But what if a single “good German” — just some grunt-level camp guard, say — had shot secret video footage of an infant being sent to the crematoria? Or transmitted a photograph of the gas chambers across the Internet? Or webcasted pirated images of Josef Mengele’s horrific “medical” experiments? Western Allied leaders, including President Roosevelt, might have found it politically impossible at that point to maintain their line that any effort to halt Nazi war crimes would only detract from the core aim of defeating Adolf Hitler’s armies.
Of course, one does not have to go back as far as the Holocaust to consider the implications of the personalized image-sharing revolution. Gergen’s “what if” question can also be asked about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. At a recent forum at the Paley Center for Media in New York City, Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit focused on alleviating global poverty, argued that the Hutu regime in Rwanda would have had a much tougher time whipping up a murderous paranoia had its people not been so isolated from the global media community.
Read More: by Paul Starobin, National Journal