The Limits of the Digital Revolution

I write a lot about the potential of technology to improve people's lives and open up politics here and around the world. We have just seen this play out in dramatic fashion in Iran. Although it remains unclear that the technologically-supported resistance there will ultimately be successful, the impact of tools like Twitter and YouTube on the Iranian uprising is undeniable - we have the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, who has done an unbelievable job covering Iran, coming to discuss it next Wednesday, so make sure to check out our webcast if you can't make it in person.

Yet we must remember that the transformative power of tools has everything to do with access and availability. Iran is the third-largest blogger country in the world, and has an internet penetration of around 35% - much lower than Israel's 74%, but enough to make a difference. They also have a 60% mobile phone penetration.

Contrast this with Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, which has internet penetration of just 4.5%. When Zelaya took office, 70% of Hondurans lived below the poverty line. He managed to bring that number down considerably, but it is still well over 50%, and Honduras still has the highest income inequality in Central America. Protesters in Honduras therefore have much less ability to make their voices heard - and if history is any guide, the world at large is also less likely to care. U.S. coverage of the crisis in Honduras has been far weaker than coverage of Iran.

Of course, some of this also has to do with ideology. Still, the situation there is undeniably similar to Iran; the state has seized control of the media, there have been large popular protests, and peaceful protesters fighting for their legitimate democracy have been murdered in cold blood. One of the big differences, unfortunately, is that many of President Zelaya's supporters belong to the 70% of Honduras's population living below the poverty line. They are not nearly as technically literate or privileged as Iranian university students. Nor do they have access to the hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid that the Iranian resistance has had - indeed, the United States has been funding opposition groups in Honduras for years. As human rights lawyer Eva Golinger pointed out after the coup,

The majority of the recipients of [US AID] in Honduras, which comes in the form of funding, training, resources, strategic advice, communications counseling, political party strengthening and leadership training, are organizations directly linked to the recent coup d'etat.

The situations in both places have yet to play out, so we will see what happens. But it's good to remember that these events never take place in a vacuum - and if you want to know what our real foreign policy priorities are, democratic rhetoric aside, a good start is to follow the money and the media coverage.