Lovink & Riemens: 10 Thesen zu Wikileaks

Zu den 10 Thesen gibt es auch einen weiteren interessanten Artikel von Detlef Borchers auf der FAZ zu lesen

Zwischen Führerprinzip und Hackeranarchie

Die 10 Thesen von Geert Lovink

These 0.

"What do I think of Wikileaks? I think it would be a good
idea!" (after Mahatma Gandhi's famous quip on 'Western Civilisation')

These 1.
Disclosures and leaks have been of all times, but never before has a
non state- or non- corporate affiliated group done this at the scale
Wikileaks managed to with the 'Afghan War Logs'. But nonetheless we
believe that this is more something of a quantitative leap than of a
qualitative one. In a certain sense, these 'colossal' Wikileaks
disclosures can simply be explained as a consequence of the dramatic
spread of IT usage, together with a dramatic drop in its costs,
including those for the storage of millions of documents. Another
contributing factor is the fact that safekeeping state and corporate
secrets - never mind private ones - has become rather difficult in an
age of instant reproducibility and dissemination. Wikileaks here
becomes symbolic for a transformation in the 'information society' at
large, and holds up a mirror of future things to come. So while one
can look at Wikileaks as a (political) project, and criticize it for
its modus operandi, or for other reasons, it can also be seen as a
'pilot' phase in an evolution towards a far more generalized culture
of anarchic exposure, beyond the traditional politics of openness and

These 2.
For better or for worse, Wikileaks has skyrocketed itself into the
realm of high-level international politics. Out of the blue, Wikileaks
has briefly become a full-blown player both on the world scene, as
well as in the national sphere of some countries. By virtue of its
disclosures, Wikileaks, small as it is, appears to carry the same
weight as government or big corporations - in the domain of
information gathering and publicizing at least. But at same time it is
unclear whether this is a permanent feature or a hype-induced
temporary phenomenon - Wikileaks appears to believe the former, but
only time will tell. Nonetheless Wikileaks, by word of its best known
representative Julian Assange, think that, as a puny non-state and non-
corporate actor, it is boxing in the same weight-class as the
Pentagon - and starts to behave accordingly. One could call this the
'Talibanization' stage of postmodern - "Flat World" - theory where
scales, times, and places have been declared largely irrelevant. What
counts is the celebrity momentum and the amount of media attention.
Wikileaks manages to capture that attention by way of spectacular
information hacks where other parties, especially civil society groups
and human rights organizations, are desperately struggling to get
their message across. Wikileaks genially puts to use the 'escape
velocity' of IT - using IT to leave IT behind and irrupt into the
realm of real-world politics.

These 3.
In the ongoing saga termed "The Decline of the US Empire", Wikileaks
enters the stage as the slayer of a soft target. It would be difficult
to imagine it doing quite the same to the Russian or Chinese
government, or even to that of Singapore - not to speak of their ...
err ... 'corporate' affiliates. Here distinct, and huge, cultural and
linguistic barriers are at work, not to speak of purely power-related
ones, that would need to be surmounted. Also vastly different
constituencies obtain there, even if we speak about the more limited
(and allegedly more globally shared) cultures and agendas of hackers,
info-activists and investigative journalists. In that sense Wikileaks
in its present manifestation remains a typically 'Western' product and
cannot claim to be a truly universal or global undertaking.

These 4.
One of the main difficulty with explaining Wikileaks arises from the
fact it is unclear - and also unclear to the Wikileaks people
themselves - whether it sees itself and operates as a content provider
or as a simple carrier of leaked data (whichever one, as predicated by
context and circumstances, is the impression). This, by the way, has
been a common problem ever since media went massively online and
publishing and communications became a service rather than a product.
Julian Assenge cringes every time he is portrayed as the editor-in-
chief of Wikileaks, yet on the other hand, Wikileaks says it edits
material before publication and claims it checks documents for
authenticity with the help of hundreds of volunteer analysts. This
kind of content vs. carrier debates have been going on for a number of
decades amongst media activists with no clear outcome. Therefore,
instead of trying to resolve this inconsistency, it might be better to
look for fresh approaches and develop new, critical, concepts for what
has become a hybrid publishing practice involving actors far beyond
the traditional domain of professional news media.

These 5.
The steady decline of investigative journalism due to diminishing
support and funding is an undeniable fact. The ever-ongoing
acceleration and over-crowding in the so-called attention economy
makes that there is no longer enough room for complicated stories. The
corporate owners of mass circulation media are also less and less
inclined to see the working of the neo-liberal globalized economy and
its politics detailled and discussed at length. The shift of
information towards infotainment demanded by the public and media-
owners has unfortunately also been embraced as a working style by
journalists themselves making it difficult to publish complex stories.
Wikileaks erupts in this state of affairs as an outsider within the
steamy ambiance of 'citizen journalism' and DIY news reporting in the
blogosphere. What Wikileaks anticipates, but so far has not been able
to organize, is the 'crowd sourcing' of the actual interpretation of
its leaked documents.
Traditional investigative journalism consisted of three phase:
unearthing facts, cross-checking these and backgrounding them into an
understandable discourse. Wikileaks does the first, claims to do the
second, but leaves the issue of the third completely blank. This is
symptomatic of a particular brand of the open access ideology, whereby
the economy of content production itself is externalized to unknown
entities 'out there'. The crisis in investigative journalism is
neither understood nor recognized. How the productive entities are
supposed to sustain themselves is left in the dark. It is simply
presumed that the analysis and interpretation will be taken up by the
traditional news media but this is not happening automatically. The
saga of the Afghan War Logs demonstrates that Wikileaks has to
approach and negotiate with well-established traditional media to
secure sufficient credibility. But at the same time these also prove
unable to fully process the material.

These 6.
Wikileaks is a typical SPO (Single Person Organization). This means
that initiative-taking, decision making, and the execution process is
largely centralized in the hands of one single person. Much like small
and medium-size businesses the founder cannot be voted out and unlike
many collectives leadership is not rotating. This is not an uncommon
feature within organizations, indifferent whether they operate in the
realm of politics, culture or the 'civil society' sector. SPOs are
recognizable, exciting, inspiring, and easy to feature in the media.
Their sustainability, however is largely dependent on the actions of
their charismatic leader, and their functioning is difficult to
reconcile with democratic values. This is also why they are difficult
to replicate and do not scale up easily. Sovereign hacker Julian
Assange is the identifying figurehead of Wikileaks, whose notoriety
and reputation very much merges with his own, blurring the distinction
between what it does and stands for and Assange's (rather agitated)
private life and (somewhat unpolished) political opinions.

These 7.
Wikileaks is also an organization deeply shaped by 1980s hacker
culture combined with the political values of techno-libertarianism
which emerged in the 1990s. The fact that Wikileaks has been founded,
and is still to a large extent run by hard core geeks, forms an
essential frame of reference to understand its values and moves. This,
unfortunately, comes together with a good dose of the somewhat less
savory aspects of hacker culture. Not that idealism, the desire to
contribute to making the world a better place, could be denied to
Wikileaks, quite on the contrary. But this idealism is paired with a
preference for conspiracies, an elitist attitude and a cult of secrecy
(never mind condescending manners) which is not conducive to
collaboration with like minded people and groups - reduced to the
position of simple consumers of Wikileaks outcomes.

These 8.
Lack of commonality with congenial 'another world is possible'
movements forces Wikileaks to seek public attention by way of
increasingly spectacular - and risky - disclosures, while gathering a
constituency of often wildly enthusiastic, but totally passive
supporters. Following the nature and quantity of Wikileaks exposures
from its inception up to the present day is eerily reminiscent of
watching a firework display, and that includes a 'grand finale' in the
form of the doomsday-machine pitched, waiting-to-be-unleashed,
'Insurance' document. This raises serious doubts about the long-term
sustainability of Wikileaks itself, but possibly also, that of the
Wikileaks model. Wikileaks operates on a ridiculously small size
(probably no more than a dozen of people form the core of its
operation). While the extent and savvyness of Wikileaks' tech support
is proved by its very existence, Wikileaks' claim to several hundreds,
or even more, volunteer analysts and experts is unverifiable, and to
be frank, barely credible. This is clearly Wikileaks Achilles' heel,
not only from a risks and/or sustainability standpoint, but
politically as well - which is what matters to us here.

These 9.
Wikileaks displays a stunning lack of transparancy in its internal
organization. Its excuse that "Wikileaks needs to be completely opaque
in order to force others to be totally transparent." amounts to little
more than Mad Magazine's famous Spy vs Spy cartoons. You win from the
opposition but in a way that makes you undistinguishable from it. And
claiming the moral high ground afterwards is not really helpful - Tony
Blair too excelled in that exercise. As Wikileaks is neither a
political collective nor an NGO in the legal sense, and not a company
or part of social movement for that matter, we need first of all
discuss what type of organization it is that we deal with. Is it a
virtual project? After all, it does exist as a hosted website with a
domain name, which is the bottom line. But does it have a goal beyond
the personal ambition of its founder(s)? Is Wikileaks reproducible and
will we see the rise of national or local chapters that keep the name
Wikileaks? And according to which playing rules will they operate? Or
should we rather see it as a concept that travels from context to
context and that, like a meme, transforms itself in time and space?
Maybe Wikileaks will organize itself around an own version of the
IETF's slogan 'rough consensus and running code'? Project like
Wikipedia and Indymedia have both resolved this issue in their own
ways, but not without crises, forks and disruptive conflicts. A
critique like the one voiced here does not aim to force Wikileaks into
a traditional format but on the contrary to explore whether Wikileaks
(and its future clones, associates, avatars and assorted family
members) could stand model for new forms of organizations and
collaborations. Elsewhere the term 'organized network' has been coined
as a possible term for this formats. In the past there was talked of
'tactical media'. Others have used the generic term 'internet
activism'. Perhaps Wikileaks has other ideas in what direction it
wants to take this organizational debate. But where? It is of course
up to Wikileaks to decide for itself but up to now we have seen very
little by way of an answer, leaving others, like the Wall Street
Journal, to raise questions, e.g., about Wikileaks' financial bona

These 10.
We do not think that taking a stand in favor or against Wikileaks is
what matters most. Wikileaks is there, and there to stay till it
either scuttles itself or is destroyed by the forces opposing its
operation. Our point is rather to (try to) pragmatically assess and
ascertain what Wikileaks can, could - and maybe even, who knows,
should - do, and help formulate how 'we' could relate to and interact
with Wikileaks. Despite all its drawbacks, and against all odds,
Wikileaks has rendered a sterling service to the cause of
transparency, democracy and openness. We might wish it to be
different, but, as the French would say, if something like it did not
exist, it would have to be invented. The 'quantitative turn' of
information overload is a fact of present life. One can only expect
the glut of disclosable information to grow further - and
exponentially so. To organize and interpret this Himalaya of data is a
collective challenge that is out there, whether we give it the name
'Wikileaks' or not.

Amsterdam, late August 2010

# distributed via : no commercial use without permission
# is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
# collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
# more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
# archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org