A web of light and dark

An Australian freelance journalist recently escaped beheading by Iraqi insurgents when his captors conducted a search on Google to confirm his claim that he was a journalist and not a CIA agent. John Martinkus’s story appeared on Freelance UK’s website on Monday. We have seen terrorists making use of the Internet to spread the horror of their beheading hostages, but we had never imagined they would use the same medium to spare the life of one. But that is the nature of the Internet. Just as it can carry the power of one voice around the world, it can bring a world of information to a single room. In the past, anyone in Martinkus’s position would have been unable to prove that he was something other than what his captors believed. Recent weeks have shown to an unprecedented extent how influential the Internet has become. During the US presidential election, bloggers were accredited for the first time to the conventions of both the Democratic and Republican parties, in recognition of the fact that these lone voices are able to influence large numbers of people over the Internet. But this new medium is still in its infancy. This was evident on election night when some bloggers reported early that exit polls had put Democratic candidate John Kerry ahead. Kerry lost, but Wall Street dropped 60 points in a few minutes before recovering. In other words, a few individuals, accountable to no one, take on such power on the Internet that they can sway the largest stock exchange. Of course, the big US television networks made the same mistake four years earlier, confirming the similar nature of all media that disseminate information. But television, radio and newspapers do not have the ability to save an individual like Martinkus from death. The Internet can do that. Like fire, the foundation of technology, it can light up the darkness and it can destroy.