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Making Better Democracies with Technology
The role technology played in these revolutions was significant, allowing citizens to utilize the Internet to access information and connect with others through social media. "What the Internet allowed was people to find each other and then do what revolutions do," said Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
It is a mistake to call the Arab Spring an Internet revolution, according to Schmidt, who spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday on the topic of "Technology and Democracy."
"All they did was use the Internet to do something courageous," he said. "It's important not to take away from that courage and to honor those that died."
Schmidt, however, is clearly a believer that access to information through new technologies can play a critical role in fomenting democracies and making existing democracies even better.
"I believe profoundly that this device will change the world," said Schmidt while holding a smart phone. "These things can serve as your best protection."
Technology can not only shame authoritarian leaders and aid citizens demanding justice. It allows people to know what their choices are through access to information and multiple viewpoints.
Is there evidence that democracy is better off for having the internet? asked interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic. Is there a risk that more information -- and the increased speed of information delivery -- means facts are more easily obfuscated?
"When we built the Internet, [democracy was] not the problem that we thought we were solving," said Schmidt. "Overall, it's better to know everything and the likelier you are to have judgement."
Schmidt conceded that the Internet weakened the role of traditional news outlets-the fourth pillars of democracy-as sources of information. "There's an interesting bargain we grew up with. Newspapers had enough cash flow from advertisements that they could fund investigative stories," said Schmidt. That's no longer the case, and there is "a loss to democracy," as a result of that, he said.
However, it is not Google's role to rank pages based on accuracy of information they contain. "I believe you can't build a true knowledge society without freedom of expression," said Schmidt. "I have a strong belief that users, given lots of information, will make the right choices."