Posted: 5/11/2002 8:23:16 PM EDT
The New York Times
May 12, 2002
Global Village Idiocy
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
DAKARTA, Indonesia — During a dinner with Indonesian journalists in Jakarta, I was taken aback when Dini Djalal, a reporter for The Far Eastern Economic Review, suddenly launched into a blistering criticism of the Fox News Channel and Bill O'Reilly. "They say [on Fox], `We report, you decide,' but it's biased — they decide before us," she said. "They say there is no spin, but I get dizzy looking at it. I also get upset when they invite on Muslims and just insult them."
Why didn't she just not watch Fox when she came to America, I wondered? No, no, no, explained Ms. Djalal: The Fox Channel is now part of her Jakarta cable package. The conservative Bill O'Reilly is in her face every night.
On my way to Jakarta I stopped in Dubai, where I watched the Arab News Network at 2 a.m. ANN broadcasts from Europe, outside the control of any Arab government, but is seen all over the Middle East. It was running what I'd call the "greatest hits" from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: nonstop film of Israelis hitting, beating, dragging, clubbing and shooting Palestinians. I would like to say the footage was out of context, but there was no context. There were no words. It was just pictures and martial music designed to inflame passions.
An Indonesian working for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, who had just visited the Islamic fundamentalist stronghold of Jogjakarta, told me this story: "For the first time I saw signs on the streets there saying things like, `The only solution to the Arab-Israel conflict is jihad — if you are true Muslim, register yourself to be a volunteer.' I heard people saying, `We have to do something, otherwise the Christians or Jewish will kill us.' When we talked to people to find out where [they got these ideas], they said from the Internet. They took for granted that anything they learned from the Internet is true. They believed in a Jewish conspiracy and that 4,000 Jews were warned not to come to work at the World Trade Center [on Sept. 11]. It was on the Internet."
What's frightening him, he added, is that there is an insidious digital divide in Jogjakarta: "Internet users are only 5 percent of the population — but these 5 percent spread rumors to everyone else. They say, `He got it from the Internet.' They think it's the Bible."
If there's one thing I learned from this trip to Israel, Jordan, Dubai and Indonesia, it's this: thanks to the Internet and satellite TV, the world is being wired together technologically, but not socially, politically or culturally. We are now seeing and hearing one another faster and better, but with no corresponding improvement in our ability to learn from, or understand, one another. So integration, at this stage, is producing more anger than anything else. As the writer George Packer recently noted in The Times Magazine, "In some ways, global satellite TV and Internet access have actually made the world a less understanding, less tolerant place."
At its best, the Internet can educate more people faster than any media tool we've ever had. At its worst, it can make people dumber faster than any media tool we've ever had. The lie that 4,000 Jews were warned not to go into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was spread entirely over the Internet and is now thoroughly believed in the Muslim world. Because the Internet has an aura of "technology" surrounding it, the uneducated believe information from it even more. They don't realize that the Internet, at its ugliest, is just an open sewer: an electronic conduit for untreated, unfiltered information.
Worse, just when you might have thought you were all alone with your extreme views, the Internet puts you together with a community of people from around the world who hate all the things and people you do. And you can scrap the BBC and just get your news from those Web sites that reinforce your own stereotypes.
A couple of years ago, two Filipino college graduates spread the "I Love You" virus over the Internet, causing billion of dollars in damage to computers and software. But at least that virus was curable with the right software. There is another virus going around today, though, that's much more serious. I call it the "I Hate You" virus. It's spread on the Internet and by satellite TV. It infects people's minds with the most vile ideas, and it can't be combated by just downloading a software program. It can be reversed only with education, exchanges, diplomacy and human interaction — stuff you have to upload the old-fashioned way, one on one. Let's hope it's not too late.