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The Wikileaks Hypocrisy


How Wikileaks Betrays the Conservative Ideals Behind its Namesake


By Kevin Jiang


Perhaps nothing defines world politics in the modern age better than the power and influence of the internet. There is no institution that better represents the internet's controversial strength than Julian Assange's Wikileaks. In the recent months, the media and various governments have come out with scathing critiques and stalwart defenses of Wikileaks and its mission. The goal of the present critique is not simply to add to the wide range of indictments of Wikileaks' impact on world politics or international relations. Instead, it aims to show that despite Assange's claim of a noble mission, the actions of Wikileaks represent a wholesale betrayal of the inherently conservative ideals of his staunchest followers.

Before delving too deeply into behavior of both Assange and Wikileaks, we must first take a brief aside to explore what exactly this following is. To the casual observer, the attitude of Wikileaks and its followers seems emblematic of a particular internet subculture, what I will refer to as the "wiki culture" (WC). The overwhelming attention that has been granted to Wikileaks and Assange has put the media's spotlight surely on this sub-culture and it has, in turn, created the conception that Wikileaks' philosophy and the WC philosophy are one and the same. So it may come as a surprise to many, both within this culture and outside of it, that Wikileaks represents just the opposite of the ideals that the WC claims to promote.

This culture is often associated with issues regarding free and openly available information, and is particularly linked to operations such as Wikipedia. As I alluded to above (and have detailed in a previous issue of Counterpoint), the WC is, despite its generally progressive rhetoric and population, an inherently conservative culture. At its core, the WC promotes a philosophy based on the ideal that the ingenuity, creativity, and knowledge of the individuals in the population can achieve far more than anything singular government or business can achieve. Take Wikileaks' name's inspiration, Wikipedia, as a simple example. Wikipedia was formed with belief in the knowledge base of the general populace as its guiding principle. By using the world as editors, rather than simply the small editorial staff of a typical encyclopedia, Wikipedia predicted that with such a volume of readers and editors, inaccuracies would be discovered and fixed more efficiently than if a single editorial team were to proofread articles one by one. Today, while Wikipedia is still certainly not fit for formal citation, it has become the go-to quick reference resource for almost anyone with an internet connection. Moreover, to achieve this with simply an entrepreneurial spark, a simple faith in the strength of individual citizenry, and no intervening government or special interest is something distinctly conservative.

So then, with offshoots such as WikiAnswers, WikiQuote, and WikiBooks, not to mention smaller topical wikis on almost anything one could think of, the wiki culture is certainly one not to be underestimated. It would seem then, with a name like Wikileaks, Julian Assange's website would quickly fall into the tradition of the WC. But aside from its stated goal of revealing government and business secrets to "the people," Wikileaks operates contrary to the very basic tenets that make its namesake such an influential organization. In its current and most notable iteration, Wikileaks' publication and content policy is not one of open contribution, but rather one where submitted leaks are subject to harsh control, and publications are timed simply to the needs of its owners. Unlike a true wiki, where knowledge is deemed necessary or unnecessary by the readers themselves, Wikileaks seems to work under the assumption that it, not the citizenry, knows what information is fit for publication and what information can be withheld to a later date. Wikileaks, despite its name, acts not as the voice of the people, but rather as the voice of its own interests, using "unpublished information" and "more leaks" as hostages in response to shutdown and legal threats. Interesting, then, that an organization that sits on its high horse and chastises world governments for withholding information from its citizens would use the same tactic to further its own goals. Stand this in contrast to organizations such as Wikipedia, which have also come under fire from many influential intellectuals and leaders for its open content policy. For Wikipedia, the solution is simple: remove offending content if it is clearly inaccurate, and stand by its principles if the content is accurate but "inconvenient," a far cry from aggressive responses taken by Wikileaks.

Indeed, it is difficult to say how Wikileaks is in any way better than the mainstream media outlets it criticizes, and for the organization to compare itself to the news reporting capability of the wiki culture generally is simply preposterous. When it comes to news, the wiki culture stretches far beyond the obvious outlet WikiNews; the culture is pervasive in online constructs such as Slashdot or Digg, where again freedom of information reigns supreme. The WC's approach to news is very simple: editors don't dictate when news is reported or how news is interpreted; the news and its readers determine that. In a community such as Slashdot or Digg, news is constantly updated, commentated, and analyzed by any person who wishes to make his ideas known. While this can occasionally lead to some seriously unwholesome and uneducated discussions, the ideal behind the madness is one of libertarianism and freedom. Wikileaks, on the other hand, focuses more on making the news than reporting it. It is no surprise then that threats of "new leaks" almost always come just as Wikileaks's previous headliner story is about to rotate out of the popular news cycle. By making its readers wait for information, even though it is readily available to print, Wikileaks' board reveals its paternalistic and egocentric attitudes. Wikileaks' behavior betrays the fundamental conservative tenet that people deserve to make their own decisions about the information they receive, interestingly doing so despite their stated goal of making government information accessible to the world population.

In the wiki culture, there is a single ideal that stands above all the rest: openness to criticism. Whether it is Wikipedia, Slashdot, or one of the many other website that embody the wiki culture, there is always room for disagreement, criticism, and debate, except within Wikileaks. For a company that makes it its mission to expose the inner workings of governments, Wikileaks is interestingly insular when it comes to its own operations. Officially, Wikileaks remains secretive to protect its supports from the attacks of the governments it aims to embarrass. Yet, the following that Wikileaks has achieved is not simply composed of uneducated dolts; in fact many of its larger supporters, given their considerable online presence, are more than capable of dealing with cyber-sabotage. Rather, Wikileaks is secretive because transparency would mean criticism of its techniques, debate over its methods, and most importantly, showing its followers just how little faith Wikileaks has in their intellect and abilities as individuals.

The wiki culture is one of individual ingenuity and freedom of information, two ideals that many a staunch conservative can sympathize with. With the rise of Wikileaks, there is the risk that the promising conservatism of this culture will be destroyed by those who see Wikileaks as the future of the wiki system. This is not to say that the overarching ideal of more accountable, transparent government proposed by Wikileaks is necessarily reprehensible. Indeed, conservatives in particular should consistently look for ways to make governments more accountable to the citizens they serve. The wiki culture itself already provides modern conservatives with the tools, networks, and freedom to call for reforms, such as elections and districting transparency, which directly affect the citizens' ability to hold governments accountable. However, they must strive for such goals in ways that promote the strength and contribution of each citizen, and not through methods that promote the culture of paranoia, elitism, and egotism that Wikileaks represents.

In Wikileaks, supporters believe that they have found a paragon representing the strength of individuals and citizens over the tyranny of great world powers. What they have really found, however, is an overbearing organization masquerading as the voice of the people, an institution no better, if not one worse, than the opaque, manipulative government that conservatives resist and Wikileaks claims to combat.