It looks like there’s hope for Iraq after all. No, there’s no major pullout of US troops planned for anytime in the near future (despite what Obama may have promised), nor is there any promise that all the violence the country has been plagued with since the US invasion of 2003 will stop anytime soon. The hope is that now, you may be able to follow it all on your cellphone!
Executives from Google, AT&T and Twitter (yes, Twitter) and other web-based businesses are currently there on the invitation of the US State Department “to explore how technology may help fight corruption and build a more accountable society.”
It’s true that building a country’s technological infrastructure can be quite a good thing. It’s also apparent that the Internet has in some ways helped open up the world and allowed more voices, including oppressed voices, to be heard and spread to a wider number of people.
You have to wonder, though, if a company like AT&T, which was involved with warrant-less wiretapping for Bush and has recently been accused of discriminating against local public access channels is really up to the task of being a flag-bearer in the fight against corruption.
It also may seem a little suspect that Google, a company that recently decided to censor certain content that the Chinese government finds objectionable from the Chinese version of its search engine, will be among those offering ideas on how “technologies could help foster transparency.”
As for Twitter, well, it’s rather new, but there are already several accusations floating around about how Facebook, a similar service, is being used by the CIA to spy on people, so it stands to reason that US officials in Iraq could use Twitter the same way. Also, can you really describe how it feels to have no clean water or food or that your neighbour just got killed in 140 characters?
That said, if these new technologies are able to empower people and strengthen communities as the trip’s stated goals would have you believe, this could be a good thing for Iraq. However, given the players involved and the apparent for-profit motivation, that outcome would most likely only be by accident or as a side-effect.
* On an “unrelated” note, if you want to follow us on Twitter and keep up with our blog posts, TV shows and other projects, now you can at http://www.twitter.com/forgetthebox