ROTTERDAM – Since its foundation in 2006, Wikileaks has been the subject of much controversy. Although initially lauded by some for the whistleblower protection they offer and their efforts to promote transparency, Wikileaks and especially its founder Julian Assange, have been heavily criticised for their involvement in the 2016 American election.
Wikileaks published documents and e-mails from the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton campaign, revealing several worrying facts and implications. There are, however, several problems with how Wikileaks has been conducting itself during the 2016 American election cycle.
First of all, in their quest for ‘transparency for the powerful and privacy for the rest’, Wikileaks has often skirted the second in favour of the first. Full transparency for whom Wikileaks deems as powerful -a dubious distinction to be sure- includes all communication from and to that person. Not all publications contain important or relevant information relating to transparency. Any public figure must be able to maintain some degree of privacy even in their correspondence relating to their work. Publishing information that will merely embarrass the powerful is to drive a political agenda other than transparency. It seems Wikileaks is deciding which powerful people or organisations need transparency, revealing a rather specific political preference.
From its conception, Wikileaks has been an organisation placed somewhere between journalism and activism. They insist on no editorial process meaning they retract as little as possible from the data they receive. Ironically, Wikileaks offers little transparency as to how they verify sources or on what basis they retract information. They claim a perfect track record of ‘verifying sources’ but there is no way to check that claim. They themselves as a powerful news agency do not take on transparency when it comes to their own organisation.
This means they will adopt the bias of their sources. Now in the earlier years, they got most of their data from whistleblowers. In fact, their on-line platform was meant as a protection mechanism ensuring anonymity for whistleblowers specifically. There is a personal risk involved to leaking data. Being a whistleblower may bring about personal catastrophe. Ensuring anonymity so that concerned individuals can step forward is great progress.
The sources at Wikileaks have changed. Wikileaks has seemingly turned into Wikihacks. The information they publish on their website was acquired through hacking instead through whistleblowers leaking data.
Hacking certainly carries less risk than leaking does. The intentions of a hacker may also be different from the intentions of a whistleblower. Wikileaks seems to expressively not care where the data they publish comes from and how it was acquired. The crusade of Julian Assange for transparency does not seem to make the distinction between leaks and hacks anymore.
Wikileaks may have become an instrument for third parties to influence public discourse by providing source material to the platform. It is transparency by the powerful for the powerful. The trade-offs between transparency, security, and privacy comprise one of the most important debates of the century. Yet the going rate is being determined by exactly the people Wikileaks should be holding accountable according to their own ideology.
The quest for transparency has been co-opted by interests no one is holding accountable. They decide what information is provided to us and what information isn’t. They act not in faith of transparency but in accordance with their own political agendas.
It is time we rethink the position of Wikileaks and treat the organisation for what it is. This means we have to look beyond the anonymity they offer and consider the intentions of their sources. However relevant or shocking the Wikileaks publications may be, there seems to be a considerable bias in what they either hold back or what information is not provided to them by their sources.