From The Washington Post: Could YouTube Have Stopped Hitler? By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman

Could YouTube Have Stopped Hitler?

By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman
Simon Wiesenthal Center

In his recent acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio said this before the Swedish Academy: "Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler's criminal plot would not have succeeded-ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day." So do the dramatic protests in Iran, dubbed by some "The Twitter Revolution," make Le Clezio a prophet in his own time?

There's no doubt that cyberfreedom's promise is limitless, its palpable impact truly global. Evidence: Blogger Xeni Jardin, who visited a remote Guatemalan village with no television or even telephone landlines but with a few inexpensive cellphones, and a nearby Internet café. Village elder Don Victoriano absorbed news of Barak Obama's victory over his Hotmail account: "If a black man can enter the Casa Blanca, maybe a Mayan person one day can become president of Guatemala."

In the 1960s, technological guru Marshall McLuhan trumpeted the emerging "global village" in which "the medium is the message." Today, it still is for those who see the Internet as the herald of a new interactive politics of citizen activism via social networking, e-mail petitions, virtual town meetings, and online organizing. Those who view Obama's campaign as the coming of age of "the Net Generation" also point to other global manifestations--from Ukraine's cellphone-driven "Orange Revolution" to South Korea's "mad cow" protests against tainted meat imports orchestrated by text messaging teenagers.

In terms of historical hypotheticals, it's possible to imagine digital technologies -- from web sites to cellphones and text messaging -- making a real difference. Just think if these options were available to Soviet dissidents and refuseniks who, back in the 1970s, were limited to communicate by secretly hand-written Samizdats. Maybe Glasnost and Perestroika would have come a decade earlier. Or just possibly there would have been a different outcome in Tiananmen Square in 1989 had Chinese protesters had been able to communicate -- and organize -- instantaneously.

Or maybe not. It remains to be seen if real tanks or thuggish shock troops like Ahmadinejad's Basij militia can be ultimately trumped by virtual protests. Would YouTube posts from inside the Munich Beer Hall where Hitler launched his abortive 1923 putsch made the Nazis look ridiculous -- or, more likely, create a cult following among young people in search of a strong leader? Would smuggled cellphone videos from Auschwitz have horrified and mobilized the German public or world public opinion to stop the factory of death? Not likely, given that images of mass murder actually sent back home by Germany's "willing executioners" failed to change anything. There is little reason to believe that the Internet could have stopped genocide in 20th century Europe any more than it has in 21st-Century Africa in Darfur.

In 2009, regimes like Myanmar (Burma) nip the problem of potential protest on the Internet in the bud by outlawing the web: no Medium-no Message. But others, from China to Iran have a much more sophisticated approach. The Chinese government, with the complicity of gatekeepers like Google and Yahoo, has found ways to squelch Internet dissent even while exploiting economically the World Wide Web. Beijing's cyberspace big brothers are forcing Internet cafés to switch to state-controlled Red Flag Software, ostensibly because "it makes sense for Internet cafes to use (Red Flag) because of their high user traffic and the system's safeguards against viruses." The "viruses that can be screened out extend to politically incorrect works as Guns N' Roses new album, "Chinese Democracy."

Tehran seems to be going further. With the help of exporters 'Uber Alles' Siemens and Nokia, Iranian authorities are digitally tracking down and silencing online dissent. And they are using Internet technologies to confuse and worry tweeters with disinformation -- a campaign that even extends to denying the martyrdom of Neda -- the symbol of the Iranian people's civil outcry.

As Big Brother regimes manipulate the Internet, extremist movements strive to exploit it. In 1995 when the Wiesenthal Center began tracking online hate there was one hate website. Today, there are over 10,000. And as with each new technological trend, the viral 2.0 has been quickly exploited to mainstream bigotry, preach violent hate crimes, and promote international Terrorism's Culture of Death and martyrdom.

From the invention of printing press to the telegraph, to radio and television, to the Internet: innovation has always been a two-edged sword. Contrary to the technological Utopians, there is no such thing as an invention whose potential for good cannot be perverted for evil.

The upbeat Age of Obama, unfortunately, is also an ominous era of Internet Hatred. McLuhan's "global village" has indeed arrived, but it's populated by the good, bad, and ugly of humanity. Nobel Laureate Le Clezio should stop hyping technological bells and whistles and stick to writing books that appeal to our better angels. Technology will never deliver us Evil. Only decent people can. Let's all commit to helping Tehran's Tweeters survive the hi-tech Inquisition that is currently being implemented by reactionary mullahs armed with cutting-edge tools Hitler never dreamed of.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman |  July 3, 2009; 9:02 AM ET