Board discusses technology

May 12, 2011


Newscasters and journalists now share the responsibility of reporting news with everyday citizens as a result of technological advances.

Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter allow individuals to disperse information to people around the world immediately, and news outlets are joining in the phenomenon with programs like CNN’s iReport and FOX News’ uReport.

A. Nazir Atassi, an assistant professor of history, said the usage of technology like social websites, satellites and cell phones have helped show police brutality, display information and break censorship.

“You can see a real advance almost instantaneously,” Atassi said. “In the case of Egypt, Facebook was used to organize demonstrations, but they did not invent the idea. The Iranians used Twitter for elections.”

He was one of the experts, along with Juan Cole, a professor of history and director for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, and Jeremy Mhire, an assistant professor of political science, for the roundtable discussion May 4. The panel discussion titled “Technological Change and Social Unrest in the Middle East” was part of Tech’s Shaping the 21st Century series.

Atassi also said technology is helpful in breaking the fear barrier and allowing individuals to instruct others preparing for demonstrations, but it is not the only way to address political issues.

“Don’t think you can organize a revolution through Facebook,” Atassi said. “You need adult supervision.”

He said video postings have been critical in making news easier for people to relate since personal stories are being told.

“The smart phone is the most incredible tool,” Atassi said.

He then told a story about a Syrian who used his phone to record a riot but was shot and died in front of the camera. He said someone uploaded the video to the Internet, and people were able to watch.

“[Videos] have added drama because you can watch the killing,” Atassi said. “You feel the anger that is fueled by the blood.”

Austin Hunter, a junior finance major, said he supported the notion that phones are effective in recording events.

“With smart phones, we don’t get the news that is processed through government-regulated news networking,” he said. “We get things from the individuals themselves, which is usually more reliable in the sense of events.”

Hunter said the existence of social sites is important to connect people from different places.

“Our way of thinking is a lot different than the Middle East’s way of thinking, but the interaction of social media is something we can identify with,” he said. “It connects us. It’s unifying, and it makes us feel their plight.”

During the panel discussion, Mhire elaborated on the idea of news outlets misrepresenting certain aspects concerning social media.

“My suspicion is that the role social media is playing is being vastly overplayed by the people in the West,” he said.

Mhire also said the West has a habit of putting modernization and democratization together.

“The language of rights is not American; it’s English,” he said. “Rights are natural. It proceeds by education, not with the barrel of a gun. It has to be remembered because it can be forgotten.”

Although many successes have been achieved in the Middle East, social media has not been the only source used for progression.

Cole said he recently partnered with professors from Cairo University-Egypt to translate Thomas Jefferson’s writings into Arabic.

“You can make a revolution without social media,” Cole said. “It’s not bad to have; it’s a tool. It doesn’t make things happen by itself.”

Email comments to dsi004@latech.edu.