Few subjects have been more in the news than WikiLeaks; few have been less understood (for example, WikiLeaks is not a wiki!).
For a great profile of both WikiLeaks and its controversial leader, Julian Assange, I direct you to the New Yorker, which posted a 12-page masterpiece. Here is the most important paragraph:
Experimenting with the site’s presentation and its technical operations will not answer a deeper question that WikiLeaks must address: What is it about?
The Web site’s strengths—its near-total imperviousness to lawsuits and government harassment—make it an instrument for good in societies where the laws are unjust. But, unlike authoritarian regimes, democratic governments hold secrets largely because citizens agree that they should, in order to protect legitimate policy.
In liberal societies, the site’s strengths are its weaknesses. Lawsuits, if they are fair, are a form of deterrence against abuse.
Soon enough, Assange must confront the paradox of his creation: the thing that he seems to detest most—power without accountability—is encoded in the site’s DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution.
That is the main problem I have with WikiLeaks; if you read the New Yorker piece, you’ll discover that far from being an open information source, WikiLeaks produces painstakingly edited editorial content.
When Assange decides what to include or exclude from raw footage of the US military mistakenly killing a reporter and other civilians, his decisions (including the choice of title–“Collateral Murder”) make it impossible for me to view WikiLeaks as an unbiased source of information.
To be fair to Assange, the piece implies that he selects inflammatory material because that’s the only material news outlets will run. But that implies that his goal is coverage and attention, not simple transparency.
To me, the tragedy is that we need ways for information to be safely and anonymously leaked. Just read this article on U.S. citizens who are being prosecuted for releasing videos of bad behavior on the part of police officers.
By focusing on coverage rather than credibility, Assange is tainting WikiLeaks’ ability to serve as on objective source of transparency.
Instead of providing a revolutionary service to overturn the traditional order, WikiLeaks is in danger of becoming just another media outlet.
The situation calls to mind the famous quote about the Vietnamese town of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Ironically, the very accuracy of that quote is in dispute, exemplifying the challenge of finding the objective “truth.”