As companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter push their technologies around the world, recent events show that they're not just exporting the latest in online tools, but a basic tenet of the American way of life - freedom of speech.
That has led to Google defying the government of China over censorship issues, to Facebook and Twitter playing a role in fueling opposition protests in Iran and to a Nigerian court banning a civil rights group from using social media to debate amputations for convicted thieves.
"It highlights the fact that technology has political impacts beyond its business model," said Eddan Katz, international affairs director for San Francisco's Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It's not just a form of communication, but a political opportunity in terms of freedom of expression."
The United States has in the past used media such as movies and radio broadcasts to help spread a view of American life and values around the world.
Avoiding state control
But new technologies such as social networks, text messaging, YouTube, Wikipedia and search engines can now be delivered at lightening speed directly into the hands of ordinary people, providing an end-run around government-controlled media or corporations.
It's ingrained into Silicon Valley culture, where "there's still kind of a romanticized view of information technologies being by nature open and free and equalizing," said Steven Weber, a professor of political sc... >>>
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