I’ve been following the Wikileaks saga with increasing interest, because it embodies a principle in which I firmly believe:
Don’t take sides, take issues.
People have asked if I’m pro-Wikileaks or anti-Wikileaks. One of my friends said she was anti-anti-Wikileaks.
The problem with taking sides is that its rare that sides are drawn up based on a single issue. And Wikileaks is decidedly *not* a single issue. Here’s my own list, just off the top of my head:
1) Freedom of speech
Wikileaks is founded on this principle, which I have always strongly supported. It is far too easy for wrongdoers, be they nation states or other actors, to suppress damaging secrets. Wikileaks is a useful tool for increasing transparency. For example, previous leaks included footage of American military forces accidentally killing friendlies and reporters–footage that the military had tried to suppress. Surely this sort of information should be available to the public.
2) Responsible foreign policy
On the other hand, diplomacy between nation-states relies on privacy and confidentiality. Perhaps it would be nice if nations were honest about their motivations and actions, but a little privacy is the social lubricant that helps the world run more smoothly.
Your family holiday party would probably be a bit more awkward if everyone knew that you said your uncle was a boring loser who was probably a pedophile, just as the Middle East is a bit tenser because Wikileaks leaked that various Arab states urged the United States to bomb Iran.
Everyone knows what everyone thinks, but not saying out loud allows us to preserve the social niceties…useful for your dinner party, essential in the case of preventing war and conflict.
3) Corporate responsibility
In response to recent developments, a number of corporations such as Amazon and PayPal cut off service to Wikileaks. Was this a responsible response to a high-risk customer that endangered shareholder value? Or a craven cave-in to government pressure? Or both?
4) Vigilante justice
In response to the corporate boycott of Wikileaks, online communities such as Anon launched DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks on the companies involved. Is this activism? Vandalism? Terrorism?
5) Crime and punishment
The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has been charged by Swedish authorities with rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion, and was arrested in the UK. Those who commit crimes should be tried, and if found guilty, punished, regardless of their other deeds (good or ill).
6) Political persecution
On the other hand, what most headlines do not report is that the charges against Assange are that while engaged in consensual sex, his condom broke, and that he either failed to disclose this to his partner, or (more damagingly) continued the intercourse after being asked to stop. The former is clearly boorish and dangerous, the latter criminal. But the details don’t match the headlines, which clearly imply that Assange is the perpetrator of violent sexual assault.
Is Sweden’s decision to charge Assange justice at work? Or an attempt to punish him via whatever means are convenient?
The point of this is that simply saying you are pro- or anti-Wikileaks is insufficient. For example, if you are pro-Wikileaks, you are implying that you are pro-freedom of speech, but also that freedom of speech takes precedence over diplomatic concerns.
Instead, you should make clear your stance on the issues, and avoid blanket judgment.
Wikileaks should be commended when its leaks bring clarity, and reprimanded when they do nothing but harm diplomacy.
Companies should be shamed for giving into pressures, but we should understand that their duty is first and foremost to their shareholders and employees, and that they are not required to risk their livelihood just to satisfy our consciences.
Those who want to protest others’ actions should do so, but legally.
We should recognize that someone like Julian Assange can be both a positive and negative force, and that just because we agree with some of his principles doesn’t mean we have to support him in everything he does.
Nor should this advice be limited to Wikileaks–taking issue rather than taking sides is good advice for all of life.