Patrice Riemens on Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:57:48 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Two,

Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Two

. . . . . . . . . .
NB. Three corrections made to previous installment(s):
influent  >> influential
also, everywhere: monicker >> moniker
Pirate Partiet documentation: from Wikisource, not Wikipedia (note 56).
. . . . . . . . . .

The Wikileaks Fracas: senseless challenge - or sensible defiance? 
(section #7)

Just as with The Pirate Bay, the Wikileaks affair is still in the
unfolding stage. And, in so far as we have to do with a spectacle here, a
(spectacular indeed) turn of events is always on the cards. Yet, next to
everything that has been written about Wikileaks displays a disturbing
lack of critical analysis. One hardly finds anything beyond mundane
standpoints of the 'Like/ Don't Like' variety. Left-wing groups,
especially in Europe, generally take Wikileaks for a champion of the
oppressed daring to go against corrupt governments. The logic here is once
more borrowed from the battlefield: my enemy's foes are my allies. Seen
from the viewpoint of governments, or of those taking a patriotic and/or
conservative position, Wikileaks is perceived as a project threatening the
international diplomatic intercourse.  It endangers the lives of soldiers
of 'the forces of good' engaged in peace keeping operations / the war
against terrorism and 'the forces of evil', and also saps the reputation
of the institutions of constitutional government. We, every thing else
notwithstanding, do consider Wikileaks - granted, in an ambiguous fashion
- to be part and parcel of the libertarian galaxy.

So let's go quickly through the facts (as known): Wikileaks, the site,
started in 2006, publishes restricted, confidential, secret (official)
documents. Till 2010 it used the same interface as Wikipedia [i.e. a Wiki
-transl] and claims itself to be a spot where dangerous documents may be
dropped in an anonymous fashion. The site itself then makes such documents
public, after a checking process. In the beginning of Wikileaks, dropping
documents on the site was neither risk-less nor very anonymous, and it was
in a later phase only that the Wikileaks team rigged itself with
relatively secure systems. The site won acclaims from the international
press in 2007, by which time Julian Assange proclaimed himself
editor-in-chief. Assange, born 1971, is an Australian hacker, and his
technical competence is outstanding; many of his contribution to a range
of (free software) coding projects are highly original [58]. He was
condemned in Australia for what federal institutions deemed to be crimes
(but his prison sentence was commuted in a fine). Julian Assange made the
front-page of newspapers worldwide in November 2010 and thereafter, when
Wikileaks published a throve of secret (but not top-secret) diplomatic
documents (/'cablegate'/), exposing misdeeds of governments, but
principally those of the US Government.

It is not so much the content of documents published on Wikileaks that is
problematic. It is preferable that news circulates, rather than be
censored.  But both aims and methods of Wikileaks come dangerously close
to those of Facebook. The idea is to achieve the radical transparency
project, (but now) at the level of governments: expose the wrongs of big,
bad governments, and be on the lookout for the sins of the powerful just
like we do with our 'friends'. Millions of secret documents are then
dished out to the general public, provoking a phenomenon of mass voyeurism
which in its turn begets mass indifference. We are confronted with
shocking, shocking revelations: wars turn out to be not intended to export
democracy, but instead to get a stranglehold on the sources of oil,
uranium, and to secure access to precious earth resources, all this with
world domination as ultimate aim. Truly shocking, however, may rather be
the realization that public opinion has become accustomed to believe
without further ado such mendacious slogans as "the war for freedom
against the axis of evil".

Julian Assange is the public face of the white knight hackers, profiling
themselves as the guardian priests of a liberating technology, and who are
willing to defy the system even at the cost of their own freedom. Of
course, some contradictions remain, but (the most important is that) it is
all for our best will. The most obvious contradictions is that this battle
for transparency demands a semi-secret, un-transparant organization, run
by an occult hierarchy with equally occult funding, and with a single
public leader, a charismatic figurehead able to attract the attention of
television cameras and prepared to engage in broadcasted duels with the
planet's presidents and  other big leaders, all this in prime time media
warfare. There is no mediation possible, no work to be done, no commitment
to be shown. There is one single and only truth, the one that speaks from
the documents made available to us by Wikileaks' supreme, liberating
technology. Yet, as we have shown in the case of Big Data, having a
massive amount of data at your disposal oppresses rather than liberate
people, stirring up more often than not a feeling of impotence, and making
them think the whole issue is hopeless. And besides, corruption, violence
and news about weird behavior (of the powerful) are hardly surprising for
anyone not totally blind to the world around her.

On top of this, the ways of Wikileaks appear quite unsuitable to different
contexts of information censorship. Attacking the United States while
being protected under the (constitutional) liberties granted by European
social democracies like Sweden, with the support of libertarian extremists
opposed to any form of government, and that of big Western newspapers, is
indubitably far easier than to confront, inside their own territories and
without the support of any political or media-based entity, dictatorships
like China, or Burma, or North Corea, or Cuba, or Iran, or Syria, or
Bielorussia [59]. A structure like Wikileaks is simply inconceivable in
modern authoritarian regimes, for the simple reason that such regimes
exercise an increasingly effective control on network infrastructures, as
well as on the access to the same. And even in the case a look alike of
Wikileaks would happen, authoritarian governments have many options at
their disposal to manipulate public opinion and get rid of dissidents
without dirtying their hands. Reading Evgeny Morozov provides a wealth of
details on how these mechanisms operate.

In Russia for instance, a country that tolerates digital piracy to a
stunning extent (probably a fun way to be anti-western and anti-american),
young consultants to the regime have mastered the art of directing the
/emotions/ of the populace, using exactly the same manipulative techniques
as american /spin doctors/: purpose-created blogs, fat headlines in the
newspapers, entire social networks devoted to pro-regime
counter-information, and to slandering and vilifying dissidents - with
verbal intimidation often foretelling physical aggression. In China we
have the 'Fifty Cents Party", a moniker referring to the money allegedly
paid for each post supporting the government. Armies of bloggers in the
sold of the state busy themselves with tweaking Wikipedia entries, and
generally with boosting traffic and pro-regime background noise, drowning
the already feeble opposition voices in the process. Saudi Arab princes
regularly hire IT experts to watch the net and fetter out informations
deemed harmful to the regime, and delay, delete, or discredit these.
Within the 'international community', states behave exactly like
individuals when it comes to their on-line profile: they do their best to
spot weak points and identify embarrassing behavior among their peers,
while trying to hide their own from view and extolling their achievements
without any critical restraint. It is both absurd and demagogic to think
that using (Wikileaks-type) denunciation to impose transparency would
really help democratic dialogue. Authoritarian and democratic regimes
alike benefit from transparency - but only applied to their own citizen.
The one who screens the hardest about the other's dark behavior wins.

(to be continued)
Next time: back to Wikileaks

. . . . . . . . . .

[58] Probably his most interesting contribution was Rubberhose, a hidden
encryption program he developed together with other hackers. Rubberhose,
which is no longer up to standards, provided deniability of the existence
of a part of a harddrive storing encrypted data. Since decryption is
basically only a matter of computing power, at least in theory, hiding the
existence of encrypted data itself is a smart stratagem which enhance
considerably the safeness of data. The technique  is called steganography,
meaning the concealment of what one wants to keep secret's very existence.
It is useful to know that the technique was specifically devised to
safeguard human-right activists operating in dictatorships.
[59] see Geert Lovink, Patrice Riemens. 'Twelve Theses on Wikileaks",
/Eurozine Magazine/, 2010:

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
( - Dutch site)
( - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact: