We are living in the backdrop of a great movie, no? At the time of this writing, Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, has released hundreds of thousands of secret government shenanigans, and promises that many more are to come, including damning information about major American financial institutions. His websites and bank accounts have been seized and numerous politicians call for his assassination. This morning he was nabbed in London for having unprotected sex with two (easily bribed) Swedish chicks. Everybody wants this cat dead.
But when it comes down to it, Julian Assange isn’t even the real target. They should be worried about the leak phenomenon, which is much larger than some Australian whistle blower.
Swarms have awesome powers in the information age. A swarm of Internet trolls will prank call the same phone number over and over again until the target goes berserk. The cops may be able to track down one or two of the trolls, and the victim may have the resources to send those chucklefucks up the river, but this does not hurt or deter the other 999 trolls in the swarm. They are well protected by numbers and anonymity.
So let’s be clear: this isn’t about Assange. He’s barely even a player. He’s just the monkey in the unfortunate position of holding the flag right now.
Assange represents a new feedback loop within the global information system. Some of the system’s information has been purposely hidden in a way that it is not subject to external feedback. Assange just managed to dredge it up to the surface where it’s subjected to the same mechanisms that are normally focused on public actions. (BTW: this is theoretically what journalism is for) So they can kill Assange, but it won’t stop the leak phenomenon. Just like how they can nuke the pirate bay, but it won’t stop Internet piracy.
Assange has succeeded at creating a structure which makes private information subject to public commentary. Now he’s just the meat associated with it and is not in any way necessary for the process to continue. Do they think that if they lock up Assange for eternity that government agents will no longer leak classified info? Do they think nobody else will set up a site to receive leaks? The Internet is built for communication between individuals and the masses – do they think that’s just going to go away?
As soon as the website went down, a number of mirrors appeared. Some government stooge at Columbia warns that even talking about WikiLeaks is a form of thoughtcrime. They’re trying to suppress the leaks, but in doing so, have unleashed the raw power of the Streisand Effect. They’ve made the information more valuable, interesting, ready to be spread.
They can go ahead and kill him, or his website, but it will just create more variations, just like when they axed Napster and it created gnutella, limewire, and eventually, torrents. The response to WikiLeaks must be a systemic response. Hopefully the response will be to operate in a more transparent way, to be aware that even private comments have a way of ending up on the Internet, so we’ll have to play it clean.
Wishful thinking, I know.