LEAKS DON’T LIE – PEOPLE DO
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks , has posted more than 1,2 million leaks in the last 3 years, and claims to receive something like 10,000 (yes ten thousand) leaked documents a day. The current super leak is the video from the US gunship helicopter shooting up a van in Baghdad in 2007 along with a man and his two young children passing by who were trying to help some of the victims.
The issue of how two young children, helping their father trying to help victims of what appears to be an unjustified shooting, qualify as enemy combatants, seems to have been glossed by a US military investigation. And even if the victims’ families were ever to succeed in running the gamut of obstacles that stand in the way of getting the case heard either by a civil court, a military court, or a world tribunal for war crimes, the verdict on the pilot and the gunner has already been passed amongst the general public in most of the Middle East. Particularly damning is the audio – a voice is overheard just begging for clearance to fire again, or even any movement that could be construed as provocation from one of the victims writhing on the ground.
Journalists do live by the code that the story must be told. But there is still a question: which story, and when? Who does it serve? Wikileaks’ policy of putting it all out there as fast as possible risks imperiling it’s implied cause: truth and justice. Asange says: “to refuse a leak is tantamount to helping the bad guys”.
But there is a very real possibility that his “all leaks are good leaks” policy might not always serve the purpose of truth and justice. Not all his leaks are of the same caliber as this video. The lack of censorship risks clashing with Wikileaks’ supposed “sense of responsibility”. Though Wikileaks does vet submissions, the speed and subjectivity of the process (Asange: “I’m the final decision if the document is legit.”) raises the spectre of personal obsession.
A few nights ago I had dinner with friends and a well connected couple from Indonesia. Referring to a recent facebook movement that raised a million followers to defend the legal rights of two corruption watch commissioners who had been jailed extra-judicially, the wife erupted indignantly.
She claimed that neither of the “heros” of the million facebookers movement were innocent, in fact she claimed that there is much evidence of their abuse of their own power as investigators dating back for years. “But the facebookers are blind, and they are being manipulated”. The implication was that the elite are still running the show (ironic, as she herself is a member of the elite), and that social media it is no more of the people, by the people, and for the people today than established media was yesterday.
Citizen journalism is not going away soon. But to presuppose that a lack of editorial filtering guarantees naked truth is naïve – perhaps it’s even the ultimate manipulation of the truth. The somewhat crass attack on Assange by his supposed “spiritual godfather”, pioneer internet whistle blower John Young, pinches this nerve: “F..k your cute hustle and disinformation campaign against legimitate dissent…”
It is a troubling thought. Many who joined the Indonesian facebook movement did so not because they thought that Bibit and Chandra were innocent victims, but because their incarceration was way outside the due process of the law. Yet in the end the movement became identical more with the opinion that these men were in fact innocent, clean as a whistle than with the fact the due process of law had been grossly ignored.
What citizen journalism and facebook movements have yet to provide is a legitimate editorial process of fact checking; a responsible system of veracity that doesn’t kill the spirit of the internet in it’s process. Some might argue that leaks don’t lie, people do…