Tom Friedman has a remarkably depressing column on what pervasive Internet access and robust search engines mean for the future. His take is that it means people who hate the United States will be able to connect more easily and band together to do mean things to us. His real point is to just say another way that we should do fewer things to piss off the rest of the world, and he uses the Internet to make his point. In doing so, he completely ignores the fact that the availability of more sources of information is generally a net good in the world. Most of the world doesn’t know much more about the United States than what they’re told by the state run media and the local clergyman. Maybe they’ve seen some badly dubbed US TV shows as well. The Internet creates potential for connections that could never have possibly existed before it came about, and Google (and other search engines) make it much easier to make those connections. (So do weblogs and RSS, by pointing you at information that may be slightly off your radar and letting you consume lots of information easily.)
Furthermore, if hate groups and terrorists are advertising online to recruit new adherents, then we have a lot better chance of being aware of them and their agenda than if they’re going through a back channel network that’s incredibly difficult to crack.