James Madison once said, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives". Madison recognized that accurate knowledge is essential for each person to take charge of their own lives. With the explosive growth of social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we now have access to more information than any other time in the history of this planet. Through the Internet, pictures, news and ideas travel around the globe like the speed of light. Social networks are creating avenues of free communication that move beyond centralized systems of information distribution.
WikiLeaks's chief editor, Julian Assange pointed to Madison's idea that pertinent information is critical for the public to perform as a check and balance to those in power. Elsewhere he spoke of how concealed information has the greatest potential for just reform because those who hide it spend a lot of energy and resources in that concealment for a reason. He pointed out that this signal of suppression is a sign of opportunity and that exposing this information could lead to reform. The online collective Anonymous is also standing up for freedom of speech and assembly and for the conviction that public control of the flow of information is essential for any society to guard against the inevitability of corruption.
TIME Magazine chose the Protester as 2011 person of the year. This was the year of people’s uprising. All around the globe, the legitimacy of governance was questioned and challenged. The critical agents for a new civil society are on the rise. It is not about a single person, group or ideology, but the empowerment of ordinary people around the world; Egyptians and Tunisians who risk their lives for the betterment of society; Occupiers in New York going viral around the globe and hackers, free information advocates, online collectives like Anonymous and LulzSec, tirelessly working to bring checks and balance to the corruption of power.
A once apathetic and cynical youth is rising to the occasion. The civic arena that has been taken over by commercial interests is bypassed by a growing segment of the populace in favor of this new model that moves beyond the nation-state and the facade of modern representative Democracy.
The Arab Spring was noted as being a social media-led revolution. Anonymous is a model of social creativity that is a phenomenon of individual action in union (or legion, as they would say) around a shared idea. Occupiers swarm cities together through the uniting values of the 99%. The protagonists of this blossoming crowd-sourced civic life are claiming power as active agents in their own lives. This new movement reminds me of the complex social organization of the bees.
"There is nothing more difficult to manage, or more doubtful of success, or more dangerous to handle than to take the lead in introducing a new order of things. For the innovator has enemies in all those who are doing well under the old order, and he has only lukewarm defenders in all those who would do well under the new order. ...
"It is necessary, however ... to determine whether these innovators are standing on their own or depend on others; that is, whether they have to beg or are able to use force in order to conduct their affairs. In the first case they always end up badly and do not accomplish anything, but when they depend on their own resources and are able to use force, then they are rarely in danger. From this comes the fact that all armed prophets have been victorious and the unarmed ones have come to ruin. For ... people are by nature fickle, and it is easy to persuade them of something, but difficult to keep them persuaded. And therefore, it is necessary to arrange things so that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force."
-- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince