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WikiLeaks Is Quite Possibly The Smoke Monster

December 23, 2010

Kathy Gill has some really great quotes from @BruceS (whose Twitter account is private) on the WikiLeaks/Julian Assange phenomenon, including:

Saints, martyrs, dissidents and freaks are always wild-cards, but sometimes they’re the only ones who can clear the general air.

@BruceS on Wikileaks, Assange & Diplomacy … “Hope” He’s What He Thinks He Is – Kathy Gill’s posterous.

That and other quotes from Bruce sort of sum up how I feel about WikiLeaks: I can’t really decide if it’s “good” or “bad;” I just know what it does and that some of what it does is good.

Which is sort of what I was saying when I said Facebook was like The Smoke Monster a little while back. (OK, now that LOST is over, we can pretty much all agree that the Smoke Monster was intended to be the bad guy, but we can also agree that it did a few good things and wasn’t entirely bad.)

Smoke Monsters aren’t ideal, but when they’re all you’ve got, sometimes you just have to make use of them as carefully as possible. Has WikiLeaks done anything bad? I haven’t seen any conclusive evidence, though I can see where Julian Assange and his organization make international actors nervous. Has WikiLeaks done anything good? I would argue yes.

At the same time, I’m still just as conflicted as Clay Shirky:

I am conflicted about the right balance between the visibility required for counter-democracy and the need for private speech among international actors. Here’s what I’m not conflicted about: When authorities can’t get what they want by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is that they can’t get what they want.

Also, as Shirky mentions, WikiLeaks may only be “good” for a limited amount of time. In other words, if WikiLeaks is what’s needed to reset the balance of government secrecy vs. the public’s need to know, then so it is. But once we let the Smoke Monster out of the bottle, how do we get it back in? And that’s the thing: we can’t; or, at least, it’s insanely difficult to do so.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cynthia Mitchell permalink
    December 24, 2010 4:03 pm

    Well said, Paul! (Though I think the smoke monster was more trouble than help, and I think Wikileaks does far more good than harm.) While I’m somewhat troubled by cramping diplomats’ ability to speak freely, I’m MUCH more concerned about the over-the-top response by so many to brand him a “terrorist,” with calls to take him out, legally or illegally. That I find truly scary…

  2. December 24, 2010 4:20 pm

    @Cynthia- I agree and I think it goes right along with the quote I posted above. If America is going to “go after” Julian Assange, OK, but on what grounds? What law are we charging him with breaking? Show me where it’s written. “Terrorist” isn’t a phrase meaning “someone who does something that makes you nervous.”

    I don’t know if I agree that WikiLeaks does “far more” good than harm, though I am inclined to agree. I’m in wait-and-see mode, because, like I said, I think Shirky has a point that WikiLeaks’ helpfulness may have a limited shelf life.

  3. James Balcerak permalink
    December 24, 2010 5:25 pm

    Assange definitely hasn’t done any harm, at least in the sense of jeopardizing soldiers or foreign operatives. No evidence has ever been presented by the government to indicate this.

    Assange did an interview on Frost over the World recently and the first question he was asked is whether governments have any right to secrecy. Quoting him “As a practical need to have secrets in certain circumstances for particular bodies and institutions, that is a long-term matter of history. Your doctor has a need to keep your medical records secret in nearly bit not all circumstances. But that is not to say that all others must obey that need. Media has a right and obligation to the public to get out information that the public needs to know. Similarly, some intelligence services have an obligation to go about their activities to the best of their ability and that sometimes in all secrecy. But what is not right for a general, or Hillary Clinton, to say that they want to use the criminal law on every person in the country to stop talking about embarrassing information that is being revealed from her institution or from the U.S. military. She does not have the right to proclaim what the law is; that is a matter for the court. She does not have the right to use the coercive power of police, armed police, to stop journalists and publishers from publishing — she does not have that right.”

    The interview goes further on this question and other issues. An important watch if you’re following Wikileaks closely. Hope this helps!

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