Week 9 – WikiLeaks & Anonymous: A New Open Flow of Information or Reassertion of State Power?

17 Sep

WikiLeaks & Anonymous: A New Open Flow of Information or Reassertion of State Power?

Social Media Presentation – Week 9
Gwendolyn O’Dea and Victoria Davis

Introduction

Network and communication power:

To understand WikiLeaks as a phenomenon, we need to first understand the conditions surrounding it. Castells (2009) highlights that we are living in a highly mediated society where the major power is communication power, and this is operating within the main model for our society, which is the network.

Cardoso (2009) takes this further stating that communication taking place within a networked organisational model links mass media forms of communication and interpersonal forms through globalisation of communication and a greater interactivity.

Network and new media power:

Galloway (2004) claims that the power in a distributed network is rooted in protocol. This differs from the institutions of power we are used to, as it deals with independent people interlinked within an organisation with some set limitations governing their connections.

This allows for resistance to be differently configured, as it can take on a number of forms, and has been described as nomadic, as actions are not centrally coordinated, but still contribute to overall resistance.

WikiLeaks a brief history

Class question: Has anybody visited the WikiLeaks website to access the leaked information?

<http://WikiLeaks.org/>

WikiLeaks was launched in 2007 and has grown rapidly since then, providing an internet ‘dropbox’ that accepts material of public interest that would not otherwise be published.

WikiLeaks is a small business with only a few paid staff and a small core of deeply engaged volunteers (Powell, 2011). This means that the leader, Julian Assange, cannot be voted out, leadership doesn’t rotate and the goals of the leader are closely aligned with the goals of the organisation.

According to the WikiLeaks website the principles on which their work is based are ‘the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history’ (http://wikileaks.org/About.html, ND).

WikiLeaks as Phenomenon

Shortly after WikiLeaks began, Assange convinced the Guardian newspaper (and eventually others) to work with them on editing the leaked diplomatic cables for publishing.  The publication of these stories and the resulting media coverage constitutes what is considered to be the WikiLeaks phenomenon.

The WikiLeaks phenomenon includes two main elements:

– the disruption of news production that resulted from partnerships between WikiLeaks and mass media organisations

– the technical and legal measures taken to shut WikiLeaks down and reactions mounted against these measures by individuals associated with Anonymous

Exploiting the news process

WikiLeaks became significant because of its ability to exploit the news production process. Through the summer of 2010, internet scholars, security specialists and hacktivists happily discussed the bits of scandal and influx of data that WikiLeaks released. Powell (2011) states that WikiLeaks transformed the news production process.

They did this by using the internet to easily reproduce and maintain identical data and creating a unique and persistent repository for informational that was usually only provided to journalists. In essence, WikiLeaks succeeded in having previously unavailable material put into the public domain. But it has not done this by maintaining a ‘people power’ wiki with every leak freely available.

The publication of stories based on leaked cables continues even now, and can be easily accessed on the WikiLeaks website and occasionally appearing in National Newspapers.

Class question: Why do you think WikiLeaks has been so highly publicised in the media?

Exploiting the internet

The Wikileaks phenomenon displays a couple of exploits. First, the insertion of Wikileaks into the production of news exploited features of the journalism process, inserting a new intermediary into the process and potentially creating a kind of disruptive innovation in the production of journalistic content. This disruption is based on the permanence and reproducibility of internet data.

Second, the response of Anonymous to attempts to shut down the WikiLeaks organisation reiterated how the exploit is a central property of a system of protocol: despite the increasing state regulation and governance of the internet, it still to some degree operates based on principles of distributed power.

Several commercial organisations tried to shut down Wikileaks by denial of service of the basic systems under their respective control. Wikileaks’ domain name server provider stopped pointing at the domain “wikileaks.org,” trying to make it unreachable.

Amazon, whose cloud computing platform was hosting the data, cut off hosting services for the site.

Banks and payment companies, like Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal, as well as the Swiss postal bank, cut off payment service to Wikileaks in an effort to put pressure on the site’s ability to raise money from supporters around the world.

Anonymous launched into actions in response to PayPal, Mastercard, and Amazon pulling all support and services for Wikileaks, despite the organization not being charged with any infraction.

The response from Anonymous and other internet users is a reminder that the Internet is not structured the way a broadcaster is.

The Anonymous operation in support of WikiLeaks, led to one of the most populated channels in the history of Internet Relay Chat. At one point there were over seven thousand people on the main channel. In other words, over 7000 people came together on the internet to share their information and hacking skills to defend and protect Wikileaks.

The main Anonymous IRC channel is: http://search.mibbit.com/channels/AnonOps

So who or what is Anonymous??

“Anonymous: We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us”

This ‘Anonymous Channel’ has 64,049 subscribers AND 8,15,547 video views

The Anonymous message

http://www.youtube.com/user/theanonmessage?feature=results_main

Class question: Has anyone experienced the new media power that the internet has provided?

 Anonymous members at a ‘Chanology’ protest. Most protesters arrived wearing Guy Fawkes masks, now a staple part of Anonymous’ iconography.

A brief history of Anonymous

  • Anonymous emerged in 2003, out of an enormously popular and anonymous image board, 4chan: http://www.4chan.org/
  • It was primarily associated with a phenomenon—trolling—known at times to unfold there.

Who are the people involved?

Anonymous is, like its name suggests, shrouded in some degree of deliberate mystery. It purports to have no leaders, no hierarchical structure, nor any geographical epicenter. For instance, those coordinating the DDoS attacks may not be the same people who write manifestos, or launch blogs or news sites under this name.

In contrast to most organizations, including Wikileaks, it is easier to contribute to Anonymous as it offers numerous micro-protest opportunities coordinated at the drop of a hat, among other possibilities for participation.

It is impossible to ‘join’ Anonymous, as there is no leadership, no ranking, and no single means of communication. Anonymous is spread over many mediums and languages, with membership being achieved simply by wishing to join.

A recent news article further discusses the complexity of Anonymous:

http://www.pcworld.com/article/262316/anonymous_stumbles_but_hackers_still_hazardous.html

Anonymous uneven?? (exert from article)

Yes and no, say those who track its exploits. Most agree with Cole Stryker, an author who has researched Anonymous and who The New York Times quoted describing it as “a handful of geniuses surrounded by a legion of idiots.”

Their contribution to defending Wikileaks, and other operations such as ‘OpTunisia’ and ‘Chanology’ has led Anonymous to become a very well-known group of ‘internet vigilantes’.

The whole of the Anonymous cannot simply be reduced to cyber-lynching, nor can the whole of Anonymous be reduced to the forms of politics.

Conclusion

In 2007 Galloway and Thacker wrote:

‘To be effective, future political movements must discover a new exploit. A whole new topology of resistance must be invented that is as asymmetrical in relationship to networks as the network was in relation to power centres… .The new exploit will be an ‘anti-web’ (2007, p. 22)

WikiLeaks reveals that the logic of networked power can be anti-web. It is not making an alternative to the production of mass media. It is innovating upon it.

Similarly, it is not demonstrating that the Internet is a brave new world with a new logic unlike that of conventional hierarchy: instead it is demonstrating that corporate, activist, and governmental interests all use overlapping strategies to exploit the organizational and power structures provided by the internet.

Class question: Do you think WikiLeaks and Anonymous have a place in our society or do you think they should be shut down?

 

References

Anonymous 2012, IRC Channel, viewed 15 September 2012, <http://search.mibbit.com/channels/AnonOps>

Armerding, T 2012, ‘Anonymous stumbles, but hackers still hazardous’, PC World Blog, web post blog, 14 September, viewed 14 September 2012, <http://www.pcworld.com/article/262316/anonymous_stumbles_but_hackers_still_hazardous.html>

Coleman, G.E 2011, ‘Anonymous: From the Lulz to Collective Action’, The New Everyday a Media Commons Project Blog, web blog post, 6 April, viewed 10 September 2012, <http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/tne/pieces/anonymous-lulz-collective-action>

Leigh, D & Harding, L 2011, ‘WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy’, e-book, accessed 12 September 2012, <http://vu.eblib.com.au.wallaby.vu.edu.au:2048/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=665736>

News.com.au 2012, Missing DNA evidence in Julian Assange sexual assault case, newspaper says, News Limited, viewed 12 September 2012,
<http://www.news.com.au/world/missing-dna-evidence-in-assange-case/story-fndir2ev-1226475236312>

Powell, A 2011, ‘The WikiLeaks Phenomenon and New Media Power’, The New Everyday a Media Commons Project Blog, web blog post,  8 April 2011, viewed 10 September 2012, <http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/tne/pieces/wikileaks-phenomenon-and-new-media-power>

WikiLeaks 2012, viewed 12 September 2012, <http://wikileaks.org/>

YouTube 2012, ‘The Anonymous Message’, video file, viewed 12 September 2012,
<http://www.youtube.com/user/theanonmessage?feature=results_main>

YouTube 2012, ‘What is WikiLeaks?’, video file, viewed 13 September 2012, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn0N4eekqLI>

4Chan 2012, <http://www.4chan.org/>

One Response to “Week 9 – WikiLeaks & Anonymous: A New Open Flow of Information or Reassertion of State Power?”

  1. akel12 October 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Do you think WikiLeaks and Anonymous have a place in our society or do you think they should be shut down?

    I do believe that both organisations have a place in our society. Notably, Wikileaks and Anonymous have both made their marks, through the mass media attention they have received for their causes and the discussion/ debate they have generated in the public sphere on issues that concern global citizens such as war and censorship. It appears that both organisations are acting to close the gap that exists between the truth and the State’s version of the truth whilst stopping any attempt of censorship by the state. Organisations such as Wikileaks serve as an important function in society because they keep those in power accountable, disseminate information that we may otherwise never be exposed too and remind us that as global citizens we all have a responsibility to one another.

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