Committed to connecting the world

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

ITU & Geneva Diplomatic Club : The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Protest Movements

Welcome Remarks 

12 March 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you this evening.

There is no doubt that information and communication technologies – ICTs – are changing the world in very dramatic ways.

They are bringing people – and things – together in ways that we could never even have dreamed of.

Back in the far and distant past, humanity lived in small communities, where everyone knew one another, and where social bonds were powerful and strong.

In industrial times, many of these bonds were broken – with rapid population growth, mass urbanization, geographical migration, and the atomization of many parts of society.

But ICTs, in a hyperconnected world, are helping us to come together once more, making barriers of distance and time far less important than our shared social and economic goals.

ICTs are also rapidly removing the barriers which once separated those with power from those without power.

This is as true for corporations and even individuals as it is for governments.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We live in a new era of accountability – and we need to embrace this as a good thing.

There are those who would fear scrutiny, who would prefer to remain hidden away, who would be uncomfortable with ‘the masses’ being aware of what is going on.

Those people would be wrong – or at the very best, misguided.

We need, of course, to respect certain boundaries of privacy and security. But this does not mean hiding behind positions of power and rejecting calls for transparency and accountability.

Indeed, in a world where there will be three billion smartphones by the year 2015, any such attempts would be doomed to failure.

Social media is changing the landscape we live in very rapidly indeed – and it is still very much an evolving issue.

As people said during the wave of social protests last year, “we use FaceBook to mobilize; we use Twitter to report; and we use YouTube to broadcast.”

This is not a revolution in itself, but it is certainly a revolutionary form.

For the first time in human history, almost anyone can use the enabling power of technology. To put themselves on the map. To have a voice, in their own language. To make themselves visible. And to bypass the official narrative.

With quite remarkable speed, and for the first time, it has become impossible to be airbrushed out of history.

This dramatically affects the relationship between the governors and the governed; between the company and its shareholders and customers; and even between husbands and wives, and parents and their children.

The democratization not just of knowledge, but of communication, is going to have a very profound – and I believe beneficial – affect on our society.

For those in positions of power, they will need to recognize – and embrace – their new accountability.

For those who may once have been – or felt – powerless, they need to recognize that they are the new agents of change; and also that they have the responsibility to use that new-found influence carefully, and wisely.

We have seen just in the past week or so how more people – tens of millions of people – can be mobilized faster than ever before, through the use of viral videos combined with the power of social networking.

I do not believe that any of us here this evening could honestly say that we see exactly where this is leading, or how this will evolve.

But I am certain that we can agree that these are positive and exciting times.

And that we are very lucky to be alive, right here, right now – in a hyperconnected world.

Let’s embrace that!

Thank you.