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Eric Schmidt: “Citizens are turning to online tools to keep their governments honest”

Google's Eric Schmidt
Guillaume Paumier / Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-3.0
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Online citizens have the power to keep their governments’ in line, according to Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt.

Google's Eric Schmidt
Guillaume Paumier / Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-3.0

“In nations and communities around the world, citizens are turning to online tools to keep their governments honest… Whistleblowing has never been so easy” he said.

Schmidt was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Honolulu yesterday (@APEC2011USA | Facebook).

He pointed to the Arab Spring protests in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, during which protesters used the internet and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to coordinate their activities.

Schmidt said that two global systems were being created; the offline world, where governments exercised power, and the online world where they have little control.

“[Young citizens] are the ones who are online, that’s how you reach them, that’s how they talk to each other. They share applications and proxy and circumvention tools and help magnify each others’ causes.”

Although he warned that governments need to be careful not to confuse online noise with public opinion.

“It’s easy in the online world to create the impression of a revolution in the form of noise. It’s important to understand what is a legitimate protest and whether it’s just people trying to create some noise… some excitement.”

Hi comments come as social networks become an increasingly powerful players in the political sphere –  this month alone courts in the US ordered Twitter to hand over information regarding the Twitter account of an Icelandic MP involved with Wikileaks, while the UK’s Home Office released a report which analysed the use of social networks as a recruitment medium for terrorist groups.

Schmidt warned that such processes work both ways, he said that with so many users online and accessing social media, actions by governments against their citizens can be better documented, adding, “there are no caves online.”

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Piers Dillon Scott
Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).