Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Digital Ethics (and Google, Twitter and Egypt)

With the Egyptian “revolution” now a week old, an inevitable note of skepticism has crept in to some of the media coverage. Not about the movement itself; even the most hardened cynic accepts that the time is long overdue for the autocratic regime to exit gracefully (or exit by any means possible, at this stage). Rather, some critics are questioning the seemingly altruistic motives of social media outlets like Twitter, YouTube, which are loudly and publicly providing a forum for Egyptians to inform and vent about current events. This has led to a loaded question – are these entities just exploiting an opportunity for some freebie PR?

The answer to that is yes, and no.

But so what? The Egyptians that post updates have to brave violent regime supporters on a rampage and the risk of arrest simply to get their message heard. They’re far away from caring if someone makes money from the coverage. And why should they? Changing their country for the better is what counts right now.

Also, maybe, just maybe, Google deserves it. The engineers at SayNow, another company now under the tech giant’s umbrella, put in extra man-hours on a super tight deadline to get “Speak to Tweet” built. Speak to Tweet allows people without access to the internet – like in, well, Egypt, where the government has cut ISP service – to dial a phone number, leave a message, and have it digitally morph into a Tweet for broadcasting. To me, that’s a huge positive that helps push along this strong wind of change. Why shouldn’t Google be at least compensated for its efforts?

Fast Company has called into question Google (and Twitter’s ) digital ethics, and whether their motives are pure. Come on people, Google is, after all, a business. It’s in the game to make money. Even the richest media outlets don’t have a limitless pool of resources and cash; any activity they engage in is going to drain both. Isn’t it good, then, that one of those activities Google has chosen to engage in is providing services to those who need them?

And really, that’s what matters right now.

You can read what Jesse Lichtenstein from Slate has to say about this topic as well -

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