Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2010 Dec 09 | What is WikiLeaks?

I think it is interesting that with the diplomatic cable leaks we've seen more venom from those who were ambivalent, and more ambivalence from those who were supportive. (My own ambivalence increased with the release of the diplomatic gossip.) I think this speaks to a change of scale common in Web phenomena.

The technology of wiki (or the Web) changes the scale of what can be done -- be it to create a massive encyclopedia or dump massive leaks. The question for WikiLeaks is are they (1) simply a repository for information dumps -- in which case there is no redaction or discrimination -- or (2) a source of curated leaks?

If WikiLeaks is a information dump, it will be (rightfully) criticized for potentially harmful releases (to life, to diplomacy, to discretion). If curated, because WikiLeaks is not actually a wiki, I don't think it will be able to scale to the job, and will (inevitably?) be criticized for potentially harmful releases as well as incompetence/malice for doing a bad job.

For the future, what possible outcomes are we looking at? Will they attempt to define themselves as a dump, or otherwise, try to be more purposeful/discriminating? And even if WikiLeaks takes a more responsible/curated path, will there be others pursuing different paths now that the cat has been shown to be able to escape from the bag?

We discussed this issue at the Berkman Center today, part of which was recorded and will soon be available over at Media Berkman.

Posted by Barry Kort at Sat Dec 11 21:16:09 2010
The sensitive materials processed through WikiLeaks was vetted by teams of professional mainstream journalists before being published.  The documents published on the WikiLeaks site bear the redactions representing the editorial judgment of the teams of professional journalists.

The thesis that WikiLeaks is an indiscriminate information dump is refuted (if not conclusively falsified) by the observation that the teams of professional journalists vetted the items before publication and redacted them in accordance with their professional editorial judgment.

Posted by Joseph Reagle at Mon Dec 13 10:05:40 2010
Barry, with respect to the State Department cable leaks, this is an excellent point, and one noted in the Wikipedia article as well as Jonathan Zittrain's FAQ. However, earlier leaks were closer to dumps, and that is also a possibility for the future (e.g., the insurance file).

Posted by Barry Kort at Tue Dec 14 08:31:56 2010
Mass Media Ethics is a recurring issue, both for mainstream journalism and for the greater blogosphere.  Mass Media sites like Wikipedia, WikiLeaks, YouTube, Facebook, et al, create a brave and scary new world where the security and integrity of personal, commercial, and government information is increasingly at risk.

I suppose we will grudgingly adapt both to the risks and to the fear-mongering about the risks of living in the Information Age.

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle