The founder and face of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is facing extradition and possible charges in Sweden for sexual misconduct. The website and organization are caught in a financial stranglehold as many of the means through which it receives donations and funding are cut off. If the man is jailed and the organization crumbles, can Wikileaks survive as a movement?
That’s the question that the NY Times attempts to answer. While many of their points are valid, is it realistic to believe that this Pandora’s Box can truly be closed now that the demand for this sort of transparency and accountability are at a high?
There have been many examples made of whistleblowers over the past couple of years. As governments and corporations face embarrassment and potential disasters in their relationships with other entities, it’s natural that the reactions to date have been harsh. President Obama made note of his desires to have the most transparent presidency in history, yet in his first 17 months in office his administration was involved in more prosecutions of leakers than any of his predecessors.
As the Times puts it, he has “not only affirmed the Bush administrationâ€™s approach, but has done so with renewed focus.”
The major flaw the Times makes in its assessment is that the venues created to supplement or replace Wikileaks at the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and other mainstream media organizations have been scarcely used and therefore a failing Wikileaks could mean the end for the movement. They miss the real muscle – organizations without boundaries.
Why mainstream media won't work
There have always been ways for people close to a situation to leak stories or data to mainstream media. They are used regularly; a good portion of the news comes from such leaks. Creating “digital dead drops” for whistleblowers to use adds nothing. The leakers weren’t going to Wikileaks and avoiding mainstream media simply because they had a convenient venue. They were going there because it acted as a degree of separation between the leakers and the published stories and analysis of the data.
Some people simply do not trust mainstream media as much as they trust Wikileaks as a dead drop of sensitive data. For everyone who has been caught leaking information to Wikileaks, a hundred others were not caught and remain anonymous. The perceptions may have changed lately in light of the arrests and prosecutions around the world, but if someone wants to get the word out about something big, they send the data to Wikileaks.
That’s all they do – leak. It’s much easier for people to trust than sending the information to the Wall Street Journal.
Why Wikileaks (as a movement) will survive
The Times article points to technological issues due to lack of funding and the extreme association in the public eye between Assange and Wikileaks as the biggest reasons why the movement will fail. If Assanged goes to jail, the movement could cease to exist entirely (at least in theory according the NY Times).
The cat’s out of the bag. Many people love the transparency. With Wikileaks facing extreme revenue problems, the people will find a way to get money to the organization. If it’s not enough, something else will pop up. It has grown too big and too popular to simply cease to exist in any form.
Wikileaks didn’t do everything right. Having Assange as such a central face and spokesperson has intertwined his personal fate with the fate of the organization to some extent. They failed to create proper funding channels, thinking that there would always be the simple Paypal or bank transfer methods at their disposal. They did not create a strong-enough infrastructure to withstand attacks from multiple fronts. They didn’t protect the whistleblowers well enough.
Whatever the next stage is, whether it’s as a strengthened continuation of what they’ve already formed or a new incantation formed by others, the errors of the past will likely be corrected. It will be fixed. They’ll move on and continue to post what others don’t want them to post.
How it will look in 3, 6, or 12 months, nobody knows for sure. It will look like something – that is certain.
Wikileaks as a concept and a movement will continue indefinitely.