The power of the internet

I have said before that the internet has created a means by which the previously voiceless can now have a large megaphone simply by virtue of the collective action of the many. We saw how the mighty Rush Limbaugh had to issue an apology to a mere student because of the wrath unleashed upon him by huge numbers of ordinary people for his behavior towards her. This would not have happened pre-internet.

The Jerry Coyne-John Haught debate episode is another case in point of the shift in the balance of power caused by the explosion of voices on the internet. If you recall, after they met in a debate, Haught asked the debate organizers to withhold public release of the debate tape on the web. In days gone by, once Haught had persuaded the host of the debate to do so, there was little that could be done. Few people would have heard of the event in the first place, fewer yet would have heard about the embargo on the tape, and only a tiny number would have been roused enough to take the time to write and mail a letter to any of the concerned parties, and those people that did so could be dismissed as not being numerous enough to be bothered about. And all that would have taken a long time and people would have lost interest.

Now, as soon as Coyne reported the withholding of the tape, others picked up on it and the story spread like wildfire. John Haught, Robert Rabel (the head of the Gaines Center that hosted the debate and had the tape), and the provost of the University of Kentucky came under a barrage of criticism from a lot of blogs and received emails from all over the place. Within 24 hours, they reversed course and said they would make the video available and within the next 24 hours it appeared online.

This is the power of the internet and it is a very good thing.


  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    If nothing else, the internet has produced the Steisand Effect.

    Streisand Effect refers to the unintended consequence of further publicizing information by trying to have it censored. Instead of successfully removing the information from the public, it becomes even more widely available than before as a backlash against the censorship attempt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *