Could New Media Have Prevented the Holocaust?

If new media existed almost 70 years ago, would we have been able to have prevent Hitler’s rise?  At his Nobel lecture last Sunday, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, this year’s Nobel literature prize winner, posed this thought:

“Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler’s criminal plot would not have succeeded — ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day.”

Due to the lack of a global media presence, the atrocities went largely unnoticed by America and the rest of the world’s citizenry, at large.  It make sense – if there was a way to get messages out the the world’s population about what was going on back in 1939, perhaps it could have been stopped.

I can imagine a Tweet from a friend in Poland that takes the world by storm, perhaps by a mobile phone.  Perhaps it’d be retweeted over and over again, blogged about, and eventually picked up by the mainstream media.  After all, Twitter is quickly becoming the de facto “breaking news” alert system for a large number of Tweeters and news organizations.  A spark is a spark, and a tweet like that would be hard to ignore.

But is awareness of a war – and a genocide – truly enough to shame and ridicule a world leader into submission?  In an ideal world, we’d love to think so.  It’d be great if new media could save the world.  But then I think about what’s going on in Zimbabwe, or what’s going on in Darfur, and I wonder if it’s just pure idealism.

It’s not exactly like the new media world has turned a blind eye to Darfur – in fact, Geoff Livingston is currently working on a project for the Save Darfur Coalition, and all of can attest to joining at least two or three Darfur-themed Facebook groups by now.  My hope is that Geoff’s new push breaks through, but the last 3 or so years of Darfur campaigns haven’t stopped the genocide.

The same goes with Zimbabwe – groups like the Open Society Institute have pushed campaigns like “Eyes on Zimbabwe” (a project that I helped out with just last year) for some time now, but Robert Mugabe is so incredibly insane that it hasn’t changed a thing.  We all know what’s going on in Zimbabwe, and so media has worked in its original intent – to spread information and raise awareness – but we’ve yet to find the “next step,” on an international, online-organized level.

While there are significant digital divide issues in Africa, there are plenty of tweets, blog posts, and successful media portals – including the amazing Afrigator – that cover these issues.  Yet, it’s never added up to what Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio idealizes.

It’s amazingly romantic to think that new media could have stopped the Holocaust from happening.  I’m a romantic, myself, but we’ve yet to see the day where this could be possible.  I’ll keep dreaming, though.

I want to know your perspective on this.  Is it feasible to think that new media could prevent a new Holocaust?  Has the medium already failed that test, or has new media just yet to reach a critical point where this is conceivable?

~ by Brad Levinson on December 10, 2008.

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