‘Revolutionary’ impact of social media like Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ in reverse

Back in 1948, British author George Orwell, in his final and most famous novel, “1984,” predicted a world in which all-seeing electronic eyes would give authorities the power to spy on everyone, as reflected in the slogan “Big Brother is watching you.”
What has actually occurred since the real year 1984, however, has turned Orwell’s vision on its ear – the runaway development of electronic communications and social media, which have given the public an unprecedented ability to scrutinize the activities of those in authority and to hold them accountable for dishonest dealings or abuses of power.

To fully appreciate the “revolutionary” impact of this phenomenon, we need look no further than the recent rebellions that have shaken the Middle East to its core.

The first of these, which managed to end the 23-year rule of Tunisia’s dictator, has been referred to as the world’s “first Facebook revolt” – one led “by educated, secular and plugged-in young people,” as described in an account in The Montreal Gazette. The uprising was also fueled in large part by Wikileaks’ Internet release of classified documents on the Internet – including a diplomatic cable that revealed the corruption of the despot and his family, which the author, a former U.S. ambassador to that country, characterized as Mafia-like in its behavior.

From Tunisia, the high-tech insurgency against authoritarian government quickly spread to Egypt, the hub of the Arab world. Here’s how it was described by Egyptian novelist Mansoura Ez-Eldin in a New York Times op-ed piece: “In the blink of an eye, the Twitter and Facebook generation had successfully rallied hundreds of thousands to its cause, across the nation. Most of them were young people who had not been politically active, and did not belong to the traditional circles of the political opposition.” (Realizing this, the government belatedly sought to cut off access to those social media, as well as cell-phone communications –but Web-savvy people were soon finding ways around those roadblocks.)

This “viral’ spirit of rebellion, in fact, has now threatened to engulf the entire region, with the king of Jordan reportedly dismissing and replacing that country’s government in an attempt to stem the tide of popular dissatisfaction.

By sheer coincidence, all of this has come about just as I was in the process of introducing the “Truth Gap” test to organizations, The test, as I noted, is based on the premise that it is no longer possible for any entity — be it a corporation, or even a government — to conceal things from a public newly empowered by instant networking capabilities. And now comes further proof (as if any were needed) in the form of these earth-shaking events.

What it all means is that, in this new era of transparency, you need to be doubly sure you’re on the level with consumers (or, in the case of governments, with citizens). That’s because millions of “little brothers” (to say nothing of ‘little sisters”)  are now watching everything you do – and are empowered to instantly communicate to each other anything that looks to them like deception, duplicity or dishonesty.