Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Wikileaks Conflict

In the past week, there has appeared a lot of support for Wikileaks and its editor-in-chief, and there has been a lot of opposition to it and him. What many people are outraged about now is the action of a government to shut down an organisation that promotes itself as part of global journalism. By doing this, I think Wikileaks' supporters are missing the point and are playing into the hands of their opponents. It seems to me that there are three points of conflict in the entire debate.

The struggle to maintain or destroy Wikileaks as an organisation. At present this is the main focus of the media and social networking. You can see it as the government decries the actions of Wikileaks and as various organisations (Paypal, Visa, Amazon, etc.) withdraw their facilities from access by Wikileaks. The counter-arguments appear in newspapers and through the Wikileaks' use of Twitter and Facebook. This struggle is about whether the leaked information continues to be published and not about leaks in organisations themselves. This is about controlling the flow of information.

The criminal accusations against Julian Assange. This has the appearance of an ad hominem attack, designed to discredit Assange and, by implication, his work. The claims are quite serious, however, and should be taken seriously. Sexual assault of any kind, by anyone, should not be tolerated. If Assange is convicted, he will no doubt be imprisoned but the work of Wikileaks will continue. Wikileaks appears to be decentralised enough to withstand the loss of its founder.

The criminal accusations against various presidents, ministers, governments, officials, etc. In other words, the actual content of the leaked documents. Before the current round of leaked cables, there was little doubt that the actions of various individuals was criminal (e.g., the actions of the American helicopter crew in killing Iraqi civilians). A clever summary of this has appeared on the web. Refreshing the page loads new content each time. This is the forgotten area of conflict at the moment, and I think that's quite intentional. The accused have deflected the argument away from the content of the cables and press forward with their attacks on Assange and the existence of Wikileaks as an organisation.

It seems to me that anyone who wants to be involved in this issue has these three areas to consider. Opponents of Wikileaks are winning in the second area by having Assange arrested. They're especially winning in the third area by creating the first area. That is, they have successfully deflected attention away from the content of the leaked documents by creating a new focus for the argument.

For myself, this is a quick summary of where I stand on the three.
1. The activities of Wikileaks is important, whether or not is is conducted by Assange or even by Wikileaks. Crime and corruption in governments, corporations, institutions and other organisations should be exposed. Wikileaks could even retreat into obscurity and become an intermediary between individuals with information and journals who will report on them.
2. The investigation into sexual assault claims should proceed. Assange has done the right thing by cooperating with the investigation rather than remaining a fugitive.
3. People everywhere, especially journalists and bloggers, should read and comment on the leaked documents, and they should be noisy about it. Make more noise about this than anything else. It is clear that crimes have been committed, and that the perpetrators should be removed from office so as to prevent further harm. Any other legal consequences are a matter for the courts.

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