wikileaks furor highlights the threat to online speech

The standard narrative of Wikileaks is one promulgated by corporate media and enthusiastically backed up by government and state officials: the release of information is unprincipled and reckless and Wikileaks must be shut down as a rogue and uncontrollable source. Let’s start with this article: WikiLeaks, Amazon and the new threat to internet speech which describes the recent actions of a certain U.S. senator and points out that

But the WikiLeaks Amazon case also highlights a new problem for American democracy — and ultimately for the future of freedom and democracy more globally. A substantial if not critical amount of our political discourse has moved into the digital realm. This realm is largely made up of virtual spaces that are created, owned and operated by the private sector.

As far as the law is concerned, Amazon is off the hook. Speech within the kingdom of Amazonia — run by its sovereign Jeff Bezos and his board of directors with help from the wise counsel and judgment of the company’s executives — is not protected in the same way that speech is constitutionally protected in America’s public spaces.

This is the highly critical part of this whole mess. This is why there has so long been a fight for Network neutrality — which would among other things, place the Internet squarely into “constitutionally protected public spaces.” The government, state, and corporate media all have an interest in preventing this from happening so that news and information can be better controlled — or kept secret — to further the aims of the governing caste. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has fought against this trend for years; it approaches more of a crisis point with each passing year that more of our day to day life and operations take place on the Internet itself. Even ten years ago, there would not have been any diplomatic cables online; censoring the Internet back then would not have immediately cut off so many people from information. Equally, that lack of urgency then is why regulation and rulings concerning the Internet were left for a later day… which has arrived and now the stakes are much, much higher. At present, in Say No to Online Censorship! EFF points out:

We’re already seeing the backlash from recent events. Governments around the world are proposing laws that would severely limit our right to free expression. In the United States, lawmakers have rashly proposed a law that would threaten many news reporting agencies. Sadly, we expect to see similar efforts in other countries over the coming weeks and months.

The shortcomings of the corporate media and its slavish obedience to the state is nicely broken down here: The psychology of media statists. And Digby nails the occasional humor factor in this one: Ticking Time Bomb.

As I have said numerous times, the Internet doesn’t really play by the rules. Its decentralized nature makes it extremely difficult to stop. As John Gilmore famously said in 1993: The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.. A good examination of the differences between centralized and decentralized systems is outlined here: The Starfish and the Spider: the unstoppable power of leaderless organizations. In any case, kill one version of Wikileaks and another rises as a modern-day Spartacus. Zero Anthropology is Wikileaks — and so are many more.

Wikileaks and the Worldwide Information War by Andrew Gavins Marshall several days ago points out that the alternative media should consider this narrative (a narrative, I should add, that I think is exactly what is playing out now; a number of excellent articles by bloggers ranging from zunguzungu and others have already weighed in along these lines):

Instead of deriding Wikileaks as “not telling us anything we didn’t know” before, perhaps the alternative media should use the popularity and momentum of Wikileaks to take from it the documentation and analysis that further strengthens our arguments and beliefs. This will allow for others, especially new audiences of interested people worldwide, to place the Wikileaks releases within a wider context and understanding. The reports from Wikileaks are ‘revelations’ only to those who largely adhere to the ‘illusions’ of the world: that we live in ‘democracies’ promoting ‘freedom’ around the world and at home, etc. The ‘revelations’ however, are not simply challenging American perceptions of America, but of all nations and their populations. The fact that these people are reading and discovering new things for which they are developing an interest is an incredible change. This is likely why the corporate media is so heavily involved in the dissemination of this information (which itself is a major source of suspicion for the alternative media): to control the interpretation of the message. It is the job of the alternative media and intellectuals and other thinking individuals to challenge that interpretation with factual analysis. The Wikileaks releases, in fact, give us more facts to place within and support our interpretations than they do for the corporate media.

Emphasis mine. Alternative media will find their strengths best played in making this information available and in exposing the ways in which corporate media (which, while I like to rag on Fox News, includes all U.S. media corporations) have been writing our narratives for us. For people who have not been involved in writing or reading alternative media, these are surprising revelations.

It is in this, that a great opportunity lies. For since the leaks support and better inform our perspectives, we can build on this concept and examine how Wikileaks adds to and supports critical analysis. For those who are newly interested and looking for information, or for those who are having their previous perceptions challenged, it is the alternative media and critical voices alone who can place that information in a wider context for everyone else. In this, more people will see how it is the alternative media and critical perspectives which were more reflective of reality than say, the mainstream media (for which Wikileaks is a ‘revelation’). Thus, more people may soon start turning to alternative media and ideas; after all, our perspectives were vindicated, not those of the mainstream media (though they attempt to spin it as such).

So long, of course as the alternative media doesn’t turn into the new corporate media, but by that time the cycle will have turned and there will be a new alternative media. (But I’m likely getting decades ahead of myself already.)

Right now, one of the most important issues to deal with is the current attempts to censor the flow of information. The outcome of this battle has not yet been determined.

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2 Responses to wikileaks furor highlights the threat to online speech

  1. Thanks very much for the links, which also helped me to discover these very interesting, informative, and insightful posts.

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