The political hot potato that surrounds the arrest, custody and legal battle of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, is set to run and run and I’m sure by Christmas, the story will still be headline news.
I’m not about to debate whether ‘his’ site is morally right or wrong (personally I believe some things are probably better off kept in a locked cabinet for good) but rather the technology battle that is furiously underway to bring down the site while those on the inside, fight to keep it going – there are some cruelly ironic parallels to draw here.
Firstly, there is a great movie to be made. I’m not sure who’s going to own the rights to it, but it will be like War Games meets The Social Network meets The Bourne Identity – something I’d certainly pay to see. Secondly, Wikileaks epitomises the strengths of social media marketing and online community building – even if Assange is locked away for good, the site (and leaks) will continue. “It is not a one-man operation, but a network of thousands motivated by shared culture” is how The Nation magazine described it.
Testament to this is Wikileaks on Twitter, which is still highly active. As Assange was led away by police in London, the latest tweet vowed to carry on with more cables promised as normal.
Despite Twitter’s insistence to quash Wikileaks from the list of trending topics, phrases such as ‘press freedom’ are trending quite happily. Moreover, rumours (strategically?) spread on Twitter stated that Assange had been removed from Time magazine Person Of The Year poll, has actually seen him comfortably leading the field, beating Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg to the top spot. Not bad for a man currently behind bars.
The technology deployed to support the Wikileaks network is quite vast now – over 1,000 (and counting) mirror sites that the US Government can’t seem to stop. In essence, they are trying to switch off something they invented to withstand a nuclear war and in practice, haven’t been able to control such things as on-line piracy – shutting down ‘just’ this one site I doubt will be easy.
They successfully unplugged Amazon’s hosting of the site, and persuaded the likes of PayPal and Mastercard to stop processing donations, but haven’t managed to shut down all the domains. Even if they did, Wikileaks openly publicises its IP number so it’s possible to access the site directly.
In last night’s Evening Standard, Mike Butcher of TechCrunch, suggested, “we may just refer to Wikileaks by its number” which is food for thought given the comparisons we can draw with Orwell’s 1984 – a story of rebellion against a Big Brother state (which even features a Ministry of Truth).
In the book, Orwell’s principle character winds up imprisoned and subjected to psychological interrogation in an attempt to ‘cure’ him of his insanity and hatred for the government. The fate of Julian Assange will hopefully be less extreme, but it is surely no coincidence he has suddenly been detained and refused bail based on charges his lawyer describes as “politically motivated”.
Wikileaks is a site built on anti-censorship and the freedom of information. It describes itself as a universal way for revealing suppressed and censored injustices; an anonymous channel for sources to reveal information to their team of journalists. In theory a perfect contender then for the World Press Freedom Prize – announced yesterday by the US Department of State as part of the World Press Freedom Day, 2011.
I’m sure Julian Assange will see the irony in that.