Monday, December 6, 2010

More WikiLeaks thoughts.

Yesterday's blog on WikiLeaks spurred quite a bit of discussion, particularly outside the comments section of the blog. I don't know how often I'll follow-up to discussions based on the amount of feedback I've received, but today I'll do that, but I'll try to keep it brief. There's something else I'd like to tackle today as well.

One thing that particularly caught my attention was this exchange with a close friend. 

Me: I'm still coming to grips with all of this [WikiLeaks stuff] and my opinions will no doubt evolve. 

Friend: I struggle to understand why anyone would like the evolution of their opinion to take place in the public domain.

From my perspective, this is precisely the purpose of this blog. I am not here to try to convert anyone to my point of view. My point of view is imperfect. I do not have perfect information or perfect judgment about the information I do have. None of us do. As such, we should always strive to seek the truth. If the truth does not jive with our opinions, we should change our opinions, not seek evidence that supports our opinions. That's rational. That's enlightened. That's how I hope all of us will think about these issues.

I freely admit to being a trusting optimist. I take Julian Assange at his word that his motives for operating WikiLeaks as he does is to improve access to information to spur an open society. I choose not to question his motives until evidence is presented that proves otherwise. That doesn't mean that I think Mr. Assange is making perfect decisions with what information to release. 

The same friend sent me a piece from The Economist which argues that, "[WikiLeaks] needs to lay down some clear, public ethical guidelines about how and why it does what it does. And it needs to bring in a board of directors of people from a wide range of countries, backgrounds and institutions to review the organisation's conduct on ethical and other grounds."

I think these are excellent points. Unless WikiLeaks is open about their editorial processes, they may fall into the same trap that they accuse others of falling into. WikiLeaks has a process for verifying the information presented by sources and makes an editorial judgment about the risks involved to individuals named in the documents, but their process for doing this is not transparent. Making this process transparent will increase the public's trust in their journalistic paradigm. 

I think a primary threat to WikiLeaks is their acceptance of documents as genuine. It seems very likely that at some point an organization or individual will leak false information to WikiLeaks in order to damage another organization or individual. If WikiLeaks does not see through the ruse, their credibility will be severely damaged. I could even imagine this occurring simply to damage WikiLeaks and not a third party.

The piece continues, "Who's WikiLeaks? Besides Mr Assange, I don't know, and they're not really telling."

Another excellent point, but one which I'm afraid the overwhelmingly negative response to the diplomatic cable leak makes much more difficult to address. Mr. Assange is now under threat of criminal charges. He's received hundreds of death threats. His bank accounts have been frozen. Why would other WikiLeaks personnel reveal their identities in the face of such threats? There is an organized assault on their credibility and ability to operate. Calling for them to reveal themselves is nice, but I don't blame them for keeping themselves secret during this maelstrom of criticism. Perhaps once things die down, as they did after both the Iraq and Afghanistan wikileaks, the organization will come to grips with some of these credibility issues. 

1 comment:

  1. Credibility? It's the internet where the number one reason people use it is for free porn. Exhibit A:

    Too much editorial control (by vested interests) is exactly why WikiLeaks has been able to release more secret documents than all other major news organizations combined. It's not like most of this information was hard to find.

    Why is the argument being turned around on it's head. Why aren't we asking for government to have more transparency? Why aren't we concerned with the secret dealings of those with ACTUAL power.

    If WikiLeaks gets duped that's their problem to deal with. If this causes you to stop taking all their information seriously, that's your choice. If they publish something knowingly that it's false information then that could be slanderous. Otherwise, it's FREE SPEECH. It's taking the good with the bad. Our principles and character aren't challenged when others say and do things that we already agree with. It's when people say and do things we disagree with that challenge our belief in our principles.