Governments or Social Networks?

French President kicked off the gathering in Paris, hailing the assembled players as the leaders of the “Internet revolution”, but warning that with their power comes great responsibility.

He hailed the role of the Internet in helping protestors organise recent Arab uprisings such as the revolutions in Tunisia and  but insisted it must be underpinned by “values” and “rules.”

I read this today and found myself wondering… in recent years who has done more to advance the cause of freedom and liberty for people across the globe, governments or the private sector? If you accept, as I do, that we have waged war for the purpose of defeating fascism and tyranny then it is a complex question to consider, but the fact that social revolutions are being powered by, much to the dismay of Malcolm Gladwell, the connectedness that social technologies proliferate makes this a fair question to ask.

The cynic in me believes that governments of all stripes desire to restrict and regulate the Internet precisely because they see the implications of an Internet that is socially empowering combined with a media landscape that is greatly emasculated and they feel threatened.

Take the infrastructure and services that social networks enable to provide services that governments are traditionally vested with and it is a really interesting scenario to ponder but of course it would be absurd to suggest that something as abstract as a social network could better provide actual services. However, I am asking a different question, which is what if social connectedness makes obsolete some of the institutions that governments traditionally undertake as their own (e.g. currency). I don’t have an answer, I am simply asking the question.

Social networks, behaviors, and content are coming together to radically transform how we relate with each other and institutions in general… why should we assume that sovereign governments are immune when the power they exert is a function of what a citizenry permits?