Archive for January, 2011

Wikileaks is a test of our democracies in the digital era

Posted in 1, Community, Digital media, Digital news, Web 2.0 on January 9, 2011 by Geir Stene

It’s disturbing what happens with Wikileaks and how governments worldwide react. Lately it’s Twitter that’s “under attach”, as these two articles from the Guardian and Telegraph points out.

To me it seems like politicians, governments and bureaucrats worldwide are seriously perplexed and mislead by their own fear.

Can leaks be stopped?
Politicians and governments does everything in their power to stop Wikileaks, including putting pressure on Twitter and also major private corporations, such as Visa, PayPal, Apple, Bank of America, and other companies running server parks around the world.

It’s like they haven’t realized that the Internet is here. There are no ways to stop the digital era and the spread of information such as misuse of power,  except for one thing: Act within the national and international laws, be transparent, embrace the ethic and moral standards we are so proud of in the western societies. Then there will be no need for fear of scandals.

Why attack Wikileaks?
The central question is really this: If Wikileaks didn’t exist, would confidential material still have been published? My bet is – yes it would, and I may add – it should! All material that has a public interest should be published.

Wikileaks is nothing but a mediator. The leaks have come, as it always has, from whistle-blowers with access and motifs, not all of them noble. The only new is the amount of revealed documents and secrets. More than 250 000 documents is said to be in the hands of Wikileaks, only a few thousand documents have been revealed to the public, and most likely even fewer published in the news till now.

Why refuse to comment on the leaks?
What is a radical trend is that governments in several cases refuse to comment on revealed information because it’s a leak via Wikileaks (mark: Wikileaks is NOT a source- it’s a mediator) this statement from the Norwegian foreign affairs is an example:

“- We are generally reluctant to comment on internal reports that are published by WikiLeaks and believe that such leaks are unfortunate. Confidential communications and contacts are a vital and necessary part of diplomacy,”“said Imerslund.”

Even the United Nations officials refuses to comment on Wikileaks revealed news:

“The United Nations says it will not comment on documents leaked by the whistle-blowing website, Wikileaks.” The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, also declined to comment on the documents.

The real problem
This is not only clumsy; it’s a democratic problem of dimensions! Shouldn’t we not take leaks like the killings of journalists in Iraq, the leaks concerning the Israeli Government and their strategy towards Gaza and a lot of other dramatic facts seriously  because it came from the mediator Wikileaks?  And shouldn’t we all worry when the US department of justice issued a subpoena against Twitter to obtain personal details of five individuals connected to Wikileaks? (Including a member of the parliament of Iceland!) – And even worse, have tried to keep it all secret! People are now starting to question whether Facebook, Google or others have been ordered the same kind of subpoenas.

This article by Jon Wessel Aas in the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen explains excellently a wide range of reasons why Wikileaks have to be defended. Of course we should get worried, and we should embrace that we have a very powerful information flow via the Internet, that we still have a well functioning critical media that dares to reveal what goes on behind the curtains of power.

A dilemma
On the other hand there is a dilemma with Wikileaks. They seem to want to control the publishing of the leaks. Sarah Ellison wrote an article in the Vanity fair about Julian Assanges meeting with the Guardian concerning who is to control publishing of secrets from the Wikileak files. To me it’s the amount of secret content, unclear motifs and that one small organization have the control of what, where and when to publish that represent a major democratic problem. I think that media organizations have spent very little time, up till recently, discussing this aspect. This seems to have been resolved by the ironic fact that Wikileaks themselves had a leak – according to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. Another aspect is that other whistle- blowing sites are popping up according to Wall Street Journal. This makes the dilemma with Wikileaks less troublesome.

” The spirit is out of the oil lamp”
Politician’s and governments have no choice anymore.. Refusing to comment on allegations is not the answer. Whistle- blower websites aren’t going to go away. It has become radically more difficult to keep secrets. The Internet is a part of the digital era. It is great news for the democracy and terrifying for those who act behind the scenes with hidden agendas and “ugly motifs”. This new global transparency and speed of sharing information will hopefully help reducing corruption, genocide, global governmental mismanagement and a lot of other kinds of abuse of power from people, organizations and nations with substantial power. My advice to politicians, governments and officials is to act pro- actively, answer openly and willingly to allegations and to take serious and swift actions to correct faults made. Otherwise it’s our democracy that’s at stake, and the one to blame will in fact be our own politicians and governments.