The emergence of the Wikileaks phenomenon is a game-changer of the sort I highlighted in “Are we ready to change the Game yet?” http://bit.ly/bwGTJO. The unfolding Wikileaks saga is generating an increasingly novel playing field — remarkably different than we were playing on even a few years ago. While the “outcome” is still unsure, reverberations from Wikileaks releases hint at unrealized potential for fundamental shifts in traditional power relationships. The consequences of that are a good deal more complex than most opponents or proponents of Wikileaks acknowledge.
Although media coverage of Wikileaks, of Julian Assange, and of the release of diplomatic messages, military reports and war videos are the most visible parts of “the Wikileaks phenomenon”, they are only the tip of a much larger and more interesting iceberg. Among the less visible questions and challenges are the following:
1. The increasing inability of governments, corporations, and even grassroots groups and citizens to keep secrets. Related: What is the emerging relationship between “privacy” versus “transparency” — and who benefits from the various ways that might play out? How are delicate diplomatic negotiations to take place when in-the-spotlight diplomats can no longer loosen up their official fixed positions in order to resolve conflicts? What happens to the functioning of elite (and other) activities when they have to invest increasing resources to maintain secrecy while struggling to keep their operational and strategic communications open enough to collaborate?
2. The spread of more or less secure websites for whistleblowers. Suddenly there are hundreds of Wikileaks “mirror sites” which have the same content as Wikileaks, thus impeding its censorship. Beyond that, alternative websites (like OpenLeaks) that also intend to serve as secure channels for whistleblower leaks are being formed — and new technology is spreading that allows anyone to set up such a site. While this is apparently good, on the surface, what are the consequences of having so many sites with many different standards of how to treat whistleblowers and their leaks? Is it possible that governments, corporations, terrorist organizations, and others could set up sites to attract people who might blow the whistle on their operations, only to later attack or suppress those whistleblowers?
3. The increasing number of questions arising on the relationship between such sites and professional journalism. Are operations like Wikileaks journalistic, and thus protected by First Amendment rights, or are they somehow different from, say, the New York Times behavior in the Vietnam War era Pentagon Papers scandal? Is Wikileaks’ close relationship with major news media (some of which have very close ties to government, including the CIA) a sign of common interest, social responsibility, collusion, co-optation, or what? How does all this relate to the growing dynamic tension between the online blogosphere and traditional broadcast and print news media — and the much-noted “collapse” (or “rebirth”) of journalism?
4. As social power starts to shift, liquify, and spread (due to these emergent phenomena), what actions — such as increased government surveillance and interference with a “free and open internet” — will arise in reaction, in an effort to control this power-shift? And what further reactions to THAT will surface — such as the “Anonymous” group’s attacks on politicians, websites and institutions that attacked or cut off services to Wikileaks? And how will any of us know who is really who in all this? The stakes are incredibly high. The online technical “arms race” — to expose or maintain secrecy –enhances the ability of various players to anonymously mimic their opponents and/or to provoke reactions that serve their interests. What kind of leak would muster public support for strict control of the Internet? How could a company secretly leak information that would devastate their competition? Is all this additional argument for or against unique, secure user-controlled online identities?
Many observers are now asking such key questions and making thought-provoking observations. Below are some of my favorites, including a BBC profile on Wikileaks activist Julian Assange, a FORBES interview with him, and an analysis of his deeper strategic motivations, taken from his earlier writings.
Note: You might check out Wikipedia as an interesting home base for researching the Wikileaks phenomenon:
- If you wish to learn more about Wikileaks see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiLeaks
- If you wish to learn more about current CableGate events and responses to them see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikileaks_cables
- If you wish to explore the actual contents of significant cables, and judge for yourself their significance, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contents_of_the_United_States_diplomatic_cables_…
First, I want to recommend WikiRebels, an excellent hour-long Swedish documentary about Wikileaks
The Yi-Tan Technology Group hosted a phone call of tech-oriented folks about Wikileaks, which they seeded with some very provocative questions. If you go to the URL above, you’ll see that many of the words in the questions are active links taking you to articles which articulate particular (often opposing) positions on these questions.
- Is Julian Assange a visionary or a criminal? Should he get a Nobel or a lynching?
- What about those trying to muffle him? Are they patriots or reactionaries?
- And the hacker backlash? Are distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) free speech, or denial of free speech?
- Who has been harmed? Has anything really important been disclosed?
- What does this incident tell us about democracy? privacy? media? corporations?
- What is the real battle here? Should information be shared or censored?
- Is this a taste of the future of news?
- Do we have any more privacy? Could we all be happy in glass houses?
- Bank of America seems to be the next WikiLeak target; then what?
- Is this incident spawning many more WikiLeaks?
- Has this incident dampened private conversations, or improved them?
- What are the odd side effects?
- Might the actions so far be the start of something much larger? Is cyberwar in the air?
- Or are we overreacting? Will this all make society better?
If you want to listen to the resulting conversation, the above URL has both a full audio of the phone call as well as a summary/highlight audio.
Especially the five key points Jay Rosen made about Wikileaks and media at the Personal Democracy Forum symposium on Wikileaks and Net Freedom
Fascinating: Here are the first signs of FAKE Wikileaks cables being published in a disinformation campaign against an enemy
Perhaps my favorite overview is Ten Thoughts About Julian Assange and WikiLeaks
by Andy Worthington
Glenn Greenwald makes a strong case defending Wikileaks as legitimate, extremely responsible journalism, noting that they have released less than 1% of the diplomatic cables they possess http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/08/wikileaks.
He specifically deconstructs CNN’s and other media’s gross misinformation campaign against Wikileaks at
More generally, check out Greenwald’s other excellent articles on Wikileaks at
A more skeptical view of Wikileaks links to mainstream media can be found at
Who is Behind Wikileaks?
(short URL: http://tinyurl.com/2ew3xcs)
by Michel Chossudovsky December 13, 2010
While the need for diplomatic privacy is defended by one of the Net’s leading pundits,
Clay Shirky’s very straightforward commentary at
BBC PROFILE: WIKILEAKS FOUNDER JULIAN ASSANGE
December 7, 2010
FORBES interview with Julian Assange
(Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/28c4m6t )
Is WikiLeaks designed to impel elite “conspiracies” into collective stupidity?
Other links of interest
WikiLeaks “no threat,” top German official says
The New York Times notes significant issues with banks being able to cut off payment systems for organizations they don’t like.
A support site for Wikileaks and Assange