wikileaks: no country for online communities

I am more fascinated than I should be by Rep. Peter King‘s call to ban companies from dealing with Wikileaks (US Rep Wants To Bar Companies from Dealing With Wikileaks).

Both [Wikileaks and Assange] ought to be placed on the Specially Designated National and Blocked Persons List, which the Treasury Department can use to bar companies and individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction from conducting business with a given entity

Remember, this is the same person who called for Julian Assange’s assassination. Wikileaks has already responded WikiLeaks condemns US embargo move. Look at how King is treating Wikileaks as some type of tangible entity, almost a country. (This in fact ties into how corporations are increasingly behaving like nation-states, although it must be noted that Wikileaks is nowhere in the same class as many of these type of corporations which do in fact run regions of the world exactly the same as any government. Keep an eye throughout this article for how many times countries and corporations are conflated.)

Bear in mind that at one very basic level, Wikileaks is just a website. It is set up in pretty much the same way as most open source software development sites are: Code is open and free, and crowdsourced out to a group of programmers who make bug fixes and feature extensions, and the whole thing rolled back together and re-released at intervals as a new version of the products. This arguably just makes them a publishing organization albeit with a fascinating underlying mechanism for handling its incoming news. And yet it is immediately being treated as something far larger and more formidable. The main difference is that Wikileaks is handling information, in particular classified information from various countries and corporations. Which goes back to the root of why I’ve been so interested in the story for the last year, finally writing about it in my own turn several months ago.

Sometimes this all makes me think of the Velveteen Rabbit. You know, the old story about a much loved Stuffed Rabbit that wanted to become Real. The online world is becoming more real by the day. But because the “real world” has not fully absorbed the implications of how the online world will affect the “real” one, there are many oversights, omissions, and downright clashes (esp. with Wikileaks). The problem is, I think, that the “real” world keeps viewing the “online” world as yet another, separate, discrete, tool. Another automobile (although that did change our culture in profound and unforseen ways), another power tool, better way to cook/listen to music/write papers/organize inventory, another way of making it easier to do something we’ve always done. But the online world isn’t a tool. It doesn’t make products. It doesn’t build tangible structures. What it does do is exchange information. It creates new communication pathways. It creates connections between different communities to afford them access to information in ways they have not had before. It has been busily creating a reality for the last thirty years that is finally spilling out into the more everyday reality of this world. Its world is in the process of merging with this one.

To illustrate the power of new pathways for information, consider this article Do We Have Ahmadinejad All Wrong? — which is able to look at the Iranian leader in a very different light with the additional information about Iran and its leader found in the Wikileaks cables. Consider for a moment if this had been the spin our mainstream media gave to Iran in the past few years rather than the hawkish, dangerously unstable one we all “know.” In addition, who has traditionally been the purveyors of information? The press — today the powerful corporate media companies. They are, despite collaborations with Wikileaks to publish the information it has, often among the forefront of its attackers: The Media’s Continuing War On Wikileaks. That’s a pattern seen over and over again when a new way of dealing with something threatens to sweep an older, established way of doing so.

Look at how Wikileaks is becoming Real:

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