I’m sure you might have already heard about the rather amusing Wikileaks video embedded below, but just in case…
If we can put aside the specifics of Wikileaks and Julian Assange for the moment, probably the most important thing to have come out of the events is that there’s an increased awareness, debate and discussion around whistleblowing, transparency and information sharing, and certainly Wikileaks has played a large part in that due to the media partnerships it made for leaked documents, and the media coverage of what has happened since. The combination of the importance of the leaked content, and the fact that it was disseminated with the maintstream media made for something which grew beyond most anonymous blog posts or forum messages, for example.
I was originally going to write that even if it had just made a handful of the governments and companies which engage in behaviour damaging society pause to reconsider, then it had done something valuable – at which point a paradox hit me.
When we talk about the efforts of big business against file-sharing and piracy, a large part of the argument is that you can’t stop people from sharing content when it keeps evolving to be quicker and easier. All that happens is that you drive the most hardcore further underground, nibbling at the very edges where those who can’t be bothered with the potential risks or the added hassles might be affected.
So flipping this around, the increase in document leaks could also simply hinder those who weren’t particularly evil or adept at hiding it, whilst those who are far more invested in their actions and determined will find better ways of hiding what they are doing – from whisteblowers, established aid charities and organisations, and any investigators from foreign governments etc.
Of course, then you can move into the actions of Anonymous and Lulzsec, and debate whether more direct attacks via hacking can be justified if they’re done with the intention of highlighting important issues.
Information to action:
The interesting thing for me is what comes after the information is released. Do we see it on the whisteblowing website, or reported in the media, and then get back to everyday tasks, or does it have some effect on the way we act. And if the effect is big enough, are we actually able to turn it into positive action?
It’s interesting that in comparing whistleblowing and piracy, there’s one key similarity. The power of both governments and big business are most definitely interested in curbing both actions by ‘private citizens’. Both can lead to economic or civil problems for both seats of power to have to deal with, and both are greatly enabled by the digital age.
The question isn’t how we can do these things, or even whether they, in themselves, are currently morally and legally acceptible, but really about how they can be used in the longer term to create change that actually enables a better way of life for the maximum amount of people, and what that might look like. And the key to that stage of social, legal and political evolution will be if the likes of Wikileaks leads us to more routes for effective action, rather than focusing on the specifics of Julian Assange and the documents released so far…