“Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. …That tension will not go away” claimed Stewart Brand, back on the 1980s, summarizing how digital trends would make information cheap to distribute but also how its processing would make it valuable and expensive to share. This week’s installation of an opposition-led National Assembly in Venezuela, remind me how this conundrum is still so relevant.
During its first session as a new assembly, TV reporters from a diverse set of broadcasters transmitted live from inside its premises, a transmission that has been restricted for the last 5 years by the salient incumbent government-dominated parliament. Though you can argue that this represents a victory for those who want information to be free, I would claim that this victory still comes short of reaching its full potential. Though Venezuelans gained access to a diverse set of perspectives and interpretations of the discussions that will play out in the National Assembly, the fact is that not all Venezuelans will be fortunate enough to be exposed to such a diversity of views. In particular, Venezuelans who live in rural areas may still only receive biased broadcasts from state-controlled media outlets.
A bigger issue is then how to reach these individuals and how to make information more accessible to them. Wide access to the Internet is certainly part of the solution. Currently, Venezuela’s overall internet penetration is reported to be slightly above 60% so there’s still plenty of work to increase coverage. But the great advantage of the Internet is that, barring authoritarian chinese-style restrictions, it offers a space where diversity is shared and discussed. Given the amount of time that users spend currently on Facebook, this platform is quickly becoming a de facto source of news, generated and shared from multiple perspectives, for an increasing segment of the population. Last year, a Facebook study performed in the US revealed that 20% to 33% of all clicks made on hard-news posts were clicks on “cross-cutting” content comprising news stories that oppose the political view of the user who’s clicking. Even approaching this threshold will be a great improvement for some Venezuelans who today are only exposed to media that is tightly aligned with government propaganda.