Like everybody else with a computer these days, I’m trying to understand what the Wikileaks cables release is really revealing and teaching us. Here is a short compilation of some things I already knew, but have re-learned and framed more clearly just thanks to this story.
Always strive to separate ideas and things from the people who promote them
If Wikileaks is good (or bad), it is good (or bad) regardless of wether Assange himself is a sexual offender or not. If Assange is a good (or bad) person, he’s good or bad regardless of wether Wikileaks is good or bad. Always try to discuss people and the ideas or projects they carry on separately.
No secrets, no power. Even if they’re foolish secrets
Umberto Eco may be clueless about some digital technology but he’s great on everything else. In a wonderful commentary about Wikileaks, Eco notes that “On the one hand, this turns out to be a bogus scandal
[because it just confirms]… that every file put together by a secret service is exclusively made up of press clippings” but then says ” How can a power hold up if it can’t even keep its own secrets anymore?… anything known about Berlusconi or Merkel’s character is essentially an empty secret, a secret without a secret, because it’s public domain. But to actually reveal, as WikiLeaks has done, that Hillary Clinton’s secrets were empty secrets amounts to taking away all her power. WikiLeaks didn’t do any harm to Sarkozy or Merkel, but did irreparable damage to Clinton and Obama.”
Cloud computing is BAD for freedom of speech
_The attack of WikiLeaks also ought to be a wake-up call for anyone who has rosy fantasies about whose side cloud computing providers are on. These are firms like Google, Flickr, Facebook, Myspace and Amazon which host your blog or store your data on their servers somewhere on the internet... The terms and conditions under which they provide both "free" and paid-for services will always give them grounds for dropping your content if they deem it in their interests to do so. The moral is that you should not put your faith in cloud computing – one day it will rain on your parade._
I can only add to this an invitation to read a real world example just in from Italy.
Time is of the essence in life. Just look to Kosovo
In the real world, when you say something is almost as important as how or where you say it. Did you knew this urgent Open Letter to Wikileaks to Change the Outcome of Kosovo Elections (parts in uppercase are my own synthesis):
_Kosovo is going to hold parliamentary elections on December 12th, 2010...The cables recently obtained by Wikileaks contain hundreds Documents mentioning Kosovo... If US officials have written as sincerely about the situation in Kosovo as they did about the rest of the world, they MAY CONTAIN IMPORTANT STUFF ABOUT SEVERAL PARTIES... Wikileaks, if you really have them... please publish the documents regarding Kosovo NOW, OTHERWISE... no matter how outrageous, they won't have any impact HERE, because the same political parties will be in charge for the next four years._
Human systems can’t stand pure transparency
This said, we as a species aren’t mentally equipped to deal with 100% truth, all the time. If everybody always knew everything that everybody else is really thinking, lots of people would jump off a cliff lemming-style and all institutions would stop working. Clay Shirky explains very well, with words to be read side by side with those from Umberto Eco, why the same is true for every human organization, from an NGO to a government:
_For negotiation to work, people’s stated positions have to change, but change is seen, almost universally, as weakness. People trying to come to consensus must be able to privately voice opinions they would publicly abjure, and may later abandon. Wikileaks plainly damages those abilities._