Access...and Credibility...for All

Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, asks that access be tied to empathy. Photograph: Christian Charisius/Corbis

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is stepping down. He gave a speech in Granada just prior to his exit, and his comments offered a useful and provocative perspective on the power of the Internet to connect us all.

What does all that connectivity do for us? For Costolo, it's about access. He spoke passionately about the consequence of removing editorial "gate-keepers" to content. In recent years,  information, knowledge, facts, opinions, the whole gamut of human expression has been freed from the control of a surprisingly small cadre of elites, whether they be academics, publishers, or government power-brokers.

And that, Costolo says, is a good thing:

Today, people can access information from its original source, instantly. This makes it much more difficult to use information as a tool for wielding power because information is equally, immediately available. It means there are more perspectives on a news story - from mainstream media, eyewitnesses or the newsmakers themselves. It means the record can be set straight when something is reported inaccurately. And that what constitutes a news story is not just decided by a select few, but by individuals all over the world.

Whether it's access to information, people, or institutions, access has a powerful effect on those who hold power, and those who have incentives to deceive or manipulate through the control of information.

Which, by the way, is most of us. We all use information to our advantage -- sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly and egregiously -- to drive our personal agendas.

We at The World Table believe that access is great, but it's insufficient. We have an abundance of information at our disposal. Especially in well-connected countries, but increasingly across the world as well, it's not access that we're lacking. It's some way of understanding the validity - the credibility - of what we're seeing that's our biggest challenge.

That's why we're in the business of equipping the Internet with tools to empower you, me, and everybody else to weigh in on the relevance, trustworthiness, and value of what we're experiencing. Of course, that's not a silver bullet. There will still be propaganda, and there will still be spin doctors trying to convince us to weigh in positively on things that aren't true. But we believe that the more power we have to rate and share, the more likely it is that we'll - perhaps eventually, perhaps more quickly - have a truer lens through which to view the world.

In order for that to happen, of course, there's one additional, very big caveat - we have to WANT to see the truth. For many, that's a scary proposition. I'm betting that the more we see the truth, the more we'll want to, because the truth is only scary whe we're not accustomed to facing it. It's empowering to face the truth, once you get used to it. And as we do, the natural course of events is that the power devolves back to the people. We remain more in control of to whom, and for what purposes, we delegate our power.

Maybe that makes me naive. 

But if so, I'm in good company. Costolo closed his remarks this way:

And what we ask of you is that you use this access responsibly and with empathy. Use it to to shine a light on what’s good in the world and what needs to be changed, to champion the underserved, to embrace people’s differences, and amplify the best of humanity.

Naive or not, that's hard to argue with. Making the world a better place, after all, is a choice.

In the end, in building a responsible public square, credibility matters as much as access. We'll all be better off if we take the time and make the effort to honestly and honorably assess what we're experiencing, and share our perspectives with others.



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