I like this mind-map by John Naughton very much and used it recently in an English class when we got talking about some tools and techniques that help us think. It comes from his post, WikiLeaks: two challenges for journalism:
… how to make sense of all this. Most people cope with this problem by, effectively, reducing its variety.
Early last Monday, I gave a 10 minute talk about Wikileaks to our top two years (12 & 13). I hope I managed to keep some of the variety. The way in, stepping stones and some points made:
- Our love of secrecy and stealth. I’d watched Kevin Slavin’s fine Lift11 talk at the weekend and that photo of the Sea Shadow makes for a good attention holder as 350+ students gather.
- Also, in a school where so many study Maths at advanced level, it was worth quickly smuggling in that compelling story Kevin tells — from black box counter-Stealth technology (cue slide of that downed Nighthawk) to black box trading.
- Then to the emergence of the Fourth Estate. A quick flash of Zaret, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-Modern England: ‘For David Zaret, the key to the rise of a democratic public sphere was the impact of this culture of printing on the secrecy and privilege that shrouded political decisions in seventeenth-century England.’ And some Wilkes.
- Wikileaks. First appeared on my radar 3 years ago to the month, with the Cayman Islands bank mini-saga and its very own Streisand effect. Fast forward to 2010: July, the Afghan War logs (+90K documents); October, the Iraq War logs (+300K field reports); November, the Diplomatic cables (+250K documents).
- Back to now and Siprnet and the matter of how many of the huge number of security-cleared personnel have access rights to this …
- Wikileaks no snake, but a networked enterprise (more John Naughton).
- Media coverage of Wikileaks (examples — the Independent; the Telegraph: Wikileaks is a wake-up call for all politicians, 24 October, 2010, WikiLeaks cables: US agrees to tell Russia Britain’s nuclear secrets, 4 Febraury, 2011) and the relationships developed with the NYT, Guardian and Der Spiegel.
- The tensions and the caving in. Amazon; Mastercard; Visa; PayPal/eBay. The threat of ‘extra legal’ actions against Wikileaks/Assange. Recall the Pentagon Papers: the matter was settled, as it should be, by the courts.
- Lliberal democracies struggling to understand Wikileaks (John Naughton captured this well in a Guardian piece last December, Live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. It’s your choice). And now, in Egypt, on the one hand Vodafone … on the other Twitter (already noted by, for example, the FT’s tech hub blog for its stance over Wikileaks, Twitter fails to jump to Dept of State’s defence): from Twitter’s own blog, The Tweets Must Flow. And Google: Google and Twitter launch service enabling Egyptians to tweet by phone (Guardian).
- Evgeny Morozov received considerable publicity recently with the publication of The Net Delusion, but his message is more complex than some represent it. In the FT last December, he wrote: ‘The lesson of the last week is that, in this new world, geeks have real power. … Mr Assange’s fans are often the very same geeks that Washington needs to court, in order to push forward its desires to end internet censorship in authoritarian states such as China and Iran. … Handled correctly, the state that will benefit most from a nerdy network of 21st-century Che Guevaras, is America itself.’
- Clay Shirky on the significance of Wikileaks as a transnational whistle-blowing site and publisher. And: ‘Assange is not a magician – he is simply an early & brilliant executor of what is being revealed as a much more general pattern, now spreading. Al-Jazeera & the Guardian created a transnational network to release the Palestine papers, without using WikiLeaks as an intermediary, & Daniel Domscheit-Berg is in the process of launching OpenLeaks, which will bring WikiLeaks-like capability to any publisher that wants it.’
To end on, to take us away from focusing just on Wikileaks, something about the big picture right now — Paul Mason’s piece which has resonated with so many (and with so many undergraduates and recent graduates I know), Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere:
… the graduate with no future … with access to social media … [which] kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously … They all seem to know each other: not only is the network more powerful than the hierarchy - but the ad-hoc network has become easier to form. … if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection. … People just know more than they used to. … People have a better understanding of power. … Technology has - in many ways, from the contraceptive pill to the iPod, the blog and the CCTV camera - expanded the space and power of the individual.
I gave the talk again mid-week to our Year 10, boiled down and in something more like 6 minutes.
Here are a couple of other pieces which I’ve found good food for thought, neither of which I had time to work in to these talks:
Bill Keller in the NYT (January, 2011):
I’m a little puzzled by the complaint that most of the embassy traffic we disclosed did not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.
Also from the same:
The government surely cheapens secrecy by deploying it so promiscuously. According to the Pentagon, about 500,000 people have clearance to use the database from which the secret cables were pilfered. Weighing in on the WikiLeaks controversy in The Guardian, Max Frankel remarked that secrets shared with such a legion of “cleared” officials, including low-level army clerks, “are not secret.” Governments, he wrote, “must decide that the random rubber-stamping of millions of papers and computer files each year does not a security system make.”
And this from John Naughton (to whom we owe a lot for his pondering of these recent events) :
For hardcore geeks, the WikiLeaks saga should serve as a stimulant to a new wave of innovation which will lead to a new generation of distributed, secure technologies (like the TOR networking system used by WikiLeaks) which will enable people to support movements and campaigns that are deemed subversive by authoritarian powers. A really good example of this kind of technological innovation was provided last week by Google engineers, who in a few days built a system that enabled protesters in Egypt to send tweets even though the internet in their country had been shut down. “Like many people”, they blogged, “we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we can do to help people on the ground. Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service – the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.”
They worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter and SayNow (a company Google recently acquired) to build the system. It provides three international phone numbers and anyone can tweet by leaving a voicemail. The tweets appear on twitter.com/speak2tweet.
What’s exciting about this kind of development is that it harnesses the same kind of irrepressible, irreverent, geeky originality that characterised the early years of the internet, before the web arrived and big corporations started to get a grip on it. Events in Egypt make one realise how badly this kind of innovation is needed.