My Own Private Guantanamo

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From clicktivism to infowar

December 15, 2010

You have likely heard about Julian Assange’s embarrassing OK Cupid profile and online diary entries, recently dredged up by Gawker, and dutifully splashed across the front page of MSNBC.com. They reveal what many have suspected– that Assange (circa 2006 anyways) is arrogant, sexist and more than a little grandiose. Assange apparently thinks girls suck at math, a view, one should note, that he shares with ex-Harvard president, and recent Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers. Assange also makes gratuitous reference to his “asian teengirl stalkers,” an objectifying remark, that reminds me of evil twin Mark Zuckerberg’s similarly embarrassing Friendster profile (which I dredged up a few weeks ago.)

What’s not found on OK Cupid or in Assange’s smutty online musings is any proof that he’s a rapist. And while I understand that some liberal bloggers who are already predisposed to assuming Assange’s guilt or “creepiness” find validation in these latest discoveries, they only confirm that Assange is a male chauvinist– much like Mr. Summers and Mr. Zuckerberg.

What if we were to  judge these men by their works, and not by their neanderthal views on women? Summers played a decisive role in ruining our national economy, and was rewarded with a powerful post in the Obama administration, from which to enrich his friends on Wall Street. Zuckerberg has repeatedly invaded the privacy of his 500 millions users for financial gain, used his bully pulpit to rehab George W. Bush’s image, and sought to trademark the word “face.” Julian Assange? He founded an organization that is revolutionizing journalism, challenging authoritarian governments and giving hope to social justice movements around the world.

Getting much less attention than Assange’s singles ad are two brilliant essays he penned shortly after he stopped logging in to OK Cupid. Headlined The non linear effects of leaks on unjust systems of governance” these writings offer a window into the ideas that created Wikileaks, and that will no doubt, fuel the many similar organizations emerging in its wake.

In brief: Assange explains how the invisible government– the actual ruling power in our society– is a conspiracy. (He means this literally, not in any speculative or paranoid sense.) The conspiracy thrives off of secrecy, but in order to function efficiently and communicate with itself, it needs paperwork. This paperwork leaves the conspiracy susceptible to leaks. Leaks force the system to become more secretive, and thus less efficient, leading to a breakdown in its function. This breakdown shifts the balance of power. It’s a brilliant, heady essay, carefully explored in detail here. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Also worth reading is this thoughtful essay defending Wikileaks from a feminist perspective. With the rape allegations threatening to tear apart an already fractured left, it is refreshing to read a trenchant feminist argument for Wikileaks and the issues it raises.

Finally, here’s an inspiring story about how prisoners in Georgia are using cellphones and text messaging to coordinate and get their message to the press. No violence. This, like everything else we’ve seen lately, is a mixture of civil disobedience and bloodless infowar. It’s inspiring stuff.

In the past several months, with the Wikileaks story, the actions of Anonymous and events like the prison protests, we’re seeing the emergence of technology as an effective tool for challenging powerful institutions. Are whistleblowing websites, crowdsourced DDoS attacks and text messaging the methods which will reinvigorate activism? Perhaps we’re moving beyond feel-good “clicktivism” and discovering the revolutionary potential of of our digital media.

In response to these new threats, the political establishment simply orders crackdowns and bans, trying to rewrite laws in an effort to make the problem go away. It’s all reminiscent of how the music industry waged war on Napster. In that case, the industry won the battle, but lost the war. As Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker says in The Social Network: “Want to buy a Tower Records?”

Is Wikileaks the Napster (or the Friendster) of whistleblowing websites? It’s likely that one of Wikileaks’ imitators will learn from Assange’s mistakes and build a 2.0 model, that will be able to withstand the kind of attacks coming from the political and financial establishment. If Wikileaks is the Friendster of whistleblowing sites, what will the Facebook equivalent look like? And how, short of switching off the internet, will our government then “protect” us from its secrets?

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