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Talking Schmidt: Even dictators care about their reputations

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Steve Jobs welcomes Eric Schmidt at Macworld Expo 2007 (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

In our continuing series Talking Schmidt we bring you the most insightful lines from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Schmidt, who is promoting his new book The New Digital Age with his coauthor Jared Cohen, recently spoke alongside his coauthor to Nathan Gardels of the Global Viewpoint Network.

When asked about the role of technology and social networks in creating change in government, Schmidt replied, “Even dictators care about their reputations.”

Schmidt was discussing how services like Weibo, Facebook, and Twitter empower ordinary citizens to participate in their societies and governments, and even create social change where they otherwise could not.

Cohen then mentioned a particular incident on Juarez, Mexico, where citizen activists were able to shame corrupt public officials with photos taken with smartphones and shared online.

Schmidt went on to say that on a greater level, the Internet will empower nations like China to rise up and create real change.

Read the excerpt below and the full interview here.

GARDELS: The other side of the coin of shared data and connectivity, as you say in the book, is the ability now of citizens to “police the police.” Some have called this “sous-veillance,” or the monitoring of government from below.

Sina Weibo in China is a good example of this. Every day, 600 million people criticize the government through microblogs on every issue from tainted milk to train wrecks and pollution to corrupt officials. Surely this is a huge power shift?

SCHMIDT: I agree with that. Weibo is a kind of combination of Facebook and Twitter. It could turn out to be a significant political force because it is not completely censorable. Even dictators care about their reputations. Even monopoly governments can be shamed.

In the book we talk about how the Weibo outrage over the Wenzhou bullet train accident led to exposure of the corrupt railroad minister, who was put in jail.

COHEN: We also saw in Juarez, Mexico, how the power of citizen connectivity can shame corrupt officials into cleaning up their act. Citizen activists there were able to photograph corrupt acts by the police on their smart phones and spread the images in the very communities where the police lived. Even in places that have long lived with corruption, this online shaming will ultimately change behavior.

Don’t forget to catch up on the latest in our ongoing series Talking Schmidt.

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