Sunday, December 12, 2010

WikiLeaks and the Fight for Democracy

WikiLeaks is under siege in the US. Not only has the web site become an “enemy of the state”, which is not surprising given the series of punches that WikiLeaks has been throwing at the US government, but the public opinion seems to have turned against the web site. The major mistake that WikiLeaks made was to divulge the names of Afghan informants who chose to work with the Americans and other foreign forces there, making those people immediate targets for the Taliban and their friends. I don’t know frankly how democracy or transparency benefited from the release of those names and as such I believe it was a very unfortunate move.

That being said, the founding principle of WikiLeaks that receives information from insiders who often take immense risks to be whistleblowers and releases it through highly respected media outlets such as the New York Times, Der Spiegel or Le Monde remains extremely valuable in my eyes as it will bring more transparency to actions of corporations and governments that find themselves under pressure because of the risk that WikiLeaks will release details of their covert actions to the outside world.

That is why I found really shocking that the likes of amazon, eBay, or Mastecard took repressive actions against WikiLeaks in order to limit its ability to operate. The closest thing in recent years to what happened this week to WikiLeaks is the freezing of Osama Bin-Laden’s bank accounts and assets… Is WikiLeaks such a threat to our world? I don’t think so.

The personality of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, has become a lighting rod for those who have come to hate the web site. Accused of sex crime in Sweden Assange has become a pariah in the US public opinion that has a long history of having banned celebrities that had committed repressible sex-related crimes or engaged in so-called immoral behaviors or were accused to have done so. The list includes Roman Polanski, Charlie Chaplin, and Woody Allen who is now viewed by most Americans as the worst pervert for having married his ex-wife’s adoptive daughter.

Assange has been heavily criticized by some of WikiLeaks’ early followers, partly around the decision to divulge Afghan informants’ names but also for its egomaniac and dismissive attitude towards others.

He will have to be replaced at the helm of WikiLeaks for the organization to continue to thrive. For the time being, we don’t know what is going to happen to him as he is now jailed in Britain. But I am concerned rather about WikiLeaks’ ability to continue to do its job as a news organization. If it is sticks to its original mission and avoids Afghan informant-type mistakes WikiLeaks does have an extremely valuable role to play in our world.

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