An unfortunate side effect of a “cool” conference like SXSW is you find a lot of people who truly, deeply believe that they themselves, personally, are changing the world for the better. It’s somewhat sweet, somewhat cheesy, and very, very naïve.
Probably top of the list in the naivety category are panels about how Social Media caused the revolutions in the Middle East. On a panel entitled “How Social Media Fueled Unrest in the Middle East” panelists Jennifer Preston and Brian Stetler of the New York Times enraptured their doe eyed audience with exactly what they wanted to hear: that it was social media that sparked, ignited and fueled the entire Middle Eastern drama.
“It did. We all know it did,” said Stetler with the ignorant confidence of a civilian.
The panel then decided to contradict itself by first proclaiming that social media helped save lives in Egypt by re-routing protests and reporting sniper locations, meanwhile also gravely noting “While these are very powerful tools, they also represent tremendous risk for those involved.”
“Dictators are learning from each other as often as activists are learning from each other,” gushed an audience member. Whatever that means. Sigh.