The Great Debate UK

from Chrystia Freeland:

When the hacker ethos meets capitalism

The uprising in Egypt has provoked the familiar “realism-versus-idealism” foreign policy debate in many Western capitals, as diplomats and politicians struggle to balance their ideological sympathy for the protesters against fears of chaos and the threat of a future anti-Western and anti-Israel policy from Cairo if the people do win.

What we have paid less attention to is that the demonstrations have forced some of the world’s hottest technology companies to engage in a very similar debate. The conclusions these technorati end up drawing may be as significant as the verdicts of Western governments. This new intellectual battleground is a further sign that in the age of the Internet and the global economy, foreign policy doesn’t belong just to professionals or to states any more.

The quandary Egypt poses for technology companies – particularly the power troika of Google, Facebook and Twitter – goes far beyond the classic corporate social responsibility concerns that have become standard operating practice at big multinationals.

On one hand, the Egyptian revolt and the ways in which it has been facilitated by the Internet is the apotheosis of hacker culture and its worldview. That is the powerful conviction of the digerati: that they are on the side of freedom, small-d democracy and of doing good in the world. This self-image is easy to mock – that Google pledge to “do no evil” makes a pretty juicy target for satirists – but it is also deeply felt.

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