The written word has long been a revolutionary agent: manifestos can change the course of history and topple governments. When the rebels take to the streets, they head first to the newspapers and the radio stations, only later to the presidential palace. Once, dissidents cranked out their discontent on basement mimeograph machines. Today they use Twitter.
The internet makes everyone an author and presents opportunities for widespread, free, unfettered, even revolutionary expression. Recent events from Charlottesville to Portland and Kenosha show that the extreme right is making social media an important organizing tool as well.
But like all communication technologies, the ’net is available for surveillance and repression as well, permitting government surveillance and censorship on a scale never before imagined. And with Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Amazon collecting our keystrokes and selling them to advertisers, it’s possible that the ultimate revolutionary impact of digitizing everything may prove to be commercial, not just personal and political.