AUSTIN, Texas - After a year that saw social media energize revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, online protests that blocked controversial anti-piracy legislation, and viral videos highlighting human rights abuses, activists at the annual South by Southwest conference said technology enables, but doesn't drive political action.
"Technology is a ladder to engagement," said Mary Joyce, founder of the Meta-Activism Project. The Internet lowers the bar for people who want to become politically involved, she said.
That message was echoed by government officials from the United States and United Kingdom who said technology can only go so far. "What you need is the involvement of citizens," said White House adviser Samantha Power, who has helped lead open government efforts.
Transparency can help increase involvement and trust in government by reducing corruption, she said.
The Internet can help increase transparency by publicizing government information, but providing that data is more important than the technology used, said Tim Kelsey, executive director of Transparency and Open Data for the U.K.
He cited examples of officials in India posting spreadsheets on the sides of buildings so people can help catch fraud in government aid programs.
"Content matters more than the channel," Kelsey said.