Wikileaks & Anonymous: A New Open Flow of Information or Reassertion of State Power?
In today’s information society, the utilization of social media platforms allows a free, open flow of information for internet users. Prior to Web 2.0, information was distributed to the general public at the discretion of the mainstream media. Today, however, social media allows an open flow of information that lets users distribute and obtain information at their own discretion. An open flow of information on the internet regards the idea of internet freedom rather than internet control. The idea of internet freedom consists of the belief that everything should be accessible on the internet. In contrast, the idea of internet control regards internet censorship and regulation. Instances where internet control is implemented illustrate an assertion of state power.
A current example of internet users utilising social media platforms to freely distribute information with powerful, political repercussions is the recent virality of the trailer for the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims. Innocence of Muslims is a feature-length filmthat denounces the Islamic religion and mocks the prophet Muhammad. The film’s screening in Hollywood – June 23, 2012 – attracted an audience of less than ten people. The trailer however, attracted much more attention through the social media platform, YouTube.
The 14 minute trailer implies that the Islamic religion is dishonest and depicts the prophet Muhammad as a womaniser, a paedophile, a homosexual and a complete idiot. The trailer was originally uploaded to YouTube in June. Sparking outrage, the video was translated into Arabic and uploaded several subsequent times in early September, when it went viral throughout the international Islamic community. Subsequent to an Arabic version of the trailer being aired on an Islamic talk-show in Egypt on September 8 (Prusher 2012), protests began in Egypt and Libya and have since become apparent in 28 countries. In Australia, a protest with over 1000 participants led to violent riots and chaos throughout Sydney, on Saturday, September 15 (Bashan 2012).
Whilst the mainstream cinema screening of Innocence of Muslims was unable to attract even its cast and crew members, the distribution of the trailer has led to outrage throughout international Islamic communities and has fuelled several violent protests and riots. The situation therefore illustrates the possible implications of the freedom of information distribution through the use of social media platforms and the internet.
The crises that resulted from the circulation of the Innocence of Muslims trailer on YouTube provoked censorship throughout the Middle East. Google has blocked the film from circulation in Indonesia and India. However, YouTube has denied removal of the video as it does not breach any laws and therefore remains a symbol of freedom of speech within the United States. This instance illustrates the extent of power and control that governments withhold over the internet, having the ability to block websites and search engine results, without being able to directly remove them.
A radical example of internet users exercising freedom of speech through utilizing Web 2.0 to distribute their ideas and opinions is the internet group Anonymous.
4Chan, the beginning of Anonymous
The new media hacking group Anonymous stemmed from internet forum 4Chan. Created by 22 Year old Christopher Poole, 4Chan is run on the idea people deserve to have a place to remain anonymous and say what they like. It was also primarily through the use of the /b/ section, the ‘for the lulz’ section and that aspect of trolling that 4Chan set an example of the power of the open flow of information. 4chan itself promoted the idea that there should be no limits on the internet, and that you should be able to access what you want when you want without the government suppressing what you can view.
‘People deserve a place to be wrong’
The idea of giving people a place where they can voice their opinions without being penalised for what they say is an example of new media power and open flow of information coming into play.
‘Support for anonymous communication often comes down to a standard set of arguments: people should have a place where they can speak truth to power.’
Where did the Anonymous group stem from?
As this site gave people who wanted their voices to be heard, /b/ on 4Chan gave people an avenue to challenge the status quo. This is where Anonymous is developed from, the idea of being able to use the internet not only for the ‘lulz’ and trolling but also to bring about a greater political good.
They went from doing things for the ‘lulz’ to a collected and organised political and social group, attacking primarily through ddos attacks, it is hard to give a clear definition of what Anonymous is but it is governed by these 3 vague rules.
1. Do it for the lulz.
2. Internet censorship is bad.
3. Don’t hurt cats.
They are a group that fights for freedom of speech and are in a way the modern day crusaders for open flow of information
Rules of Anonymous
Typically Anonymous members are known for donning a Guy Fawkes mask. Initially, Anonymous were largely are a prank group, doing things for the ‘lulz’. Later, they would continue to perform more serious political and social attacks.
The following are examples of ‘do it for the lulz’ attacks:
It first surfaced in 2008 that Anonymous was becoming a more structured group rather than just a prank group when they targeted the church of scientology.
Here are two videos, one is the leaked Tom Cruise video which was only meant for viewing within the church itself, the other is Anonymous declaring ‘war’ on Scientology.
These are the two examples explored in the reading. Anonymous’ attack on the church of Scientology was one of the first examples of a more structured attack on an actual institution or person rather than the normal trolling and ‘lulz‘ prior to this attack.
Today, the most recent spate of attacks have been on anybody who supports ‘SOPA’ (Stop Online Piracy Act). This is the act the brought down the program MegaUpload and attempted to bring down the PirateBay. More importantly, it allows the United States government a significant amount of control of the internet. This is a prime example of State assertion. Therefore, if the US government is fighting for this State assertion and control of the internet, a group like Anonymous can be the fighter for the open flow of information. Here is a video that provides a brief rundown on the stance Anonymous have on SOPA. Although SOPA ended up being denied and not passed as a bill, this was the first example that they United States Government made at suppressing the idea of open flow of information, trying to censor what was going to be allowed on our internet, a key example of extreme internet censorship is that of which China has.
The following are additional examples of Anonymous’ attacks:
A more radical example of a group utilizing the internet to distribute a free flow of information is organization of Wikileaks.
Alison Powell describes Wiki leaks as having two completely unique aspects:
– Wikileaks ‘the organisation’
– Wikileaks ‘the phenomenon’
Wikileaks ‘the organisation’:
The initial founding ideals of Wikileaks focused on the personal views of organisation founder Julian Assange.
The most notable ideal of Assange was his critical views upon sovereign state’s having control and restricting access to information.
The Wikileaks website describes the organisation’s purpose as the following:
“Wikileaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box). One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.”
From the organisation’s beginnings as an encrypted internet drop box, the reach of Wikileaks expanded much further due to the organisation’s partnership with British newspaper The Guardian, before other media outlets eventually came onside with Assange and Wikileaks.
Wikileaks ‘the phenomenon’:
Cardaso (2009) claims that “communication taking place within a networked organizational model creates communicational paradigms that link mass media forms of communication and interpersonal forms through a globalization of communication and a greater interactivity.”
The author further argues “In this context, the Wikileaks phenomenon includes two elements: First, the disruption of news production that resulted from the partnerships between Wikileaks and mass media organizations; and second, the technical and legal measures taken to shut down Wikileaks (mostly by US commercial and state actors) and the reactions mounted against these measures by individuals associating themselves with Anonymous.”
Further point: Wikileaks ‘exploiting the news process’:
Julian Assange’s connections to news sources such as The Guardian newspaper in Britain allowed Wikileaks to gain much more awareness for the items they were leaking to the world than most internet ‘hacktivist’ organisations.
Despite the newsworthiness of the leaks, the way in which Wikileaks released information such as diplomatic cables went against the journalism tradition of keeping one’s sources secret. Also, Wikileaks released all information in a manner that made it free for anyone with internet access to view it, with no profit made or intended to be made by the organisation, whilst most news outlets would only release leaked information if they knew that there was a profit to be made.
With the emergence of groups such as Anonymous and Wikileaks, one could argue that mankind has never had so much access to an open flow of information.
However, many Nation-States view this emergence of what was once hidden information into the public domain as a threat. Therefore, Nation-States occasionally attempt to assert power through censorship and control of the internet.
Do you think that new media
a. Allows a completely free flow of information, or
b. Is governed by State power?
Do you think governments have the right to censor information distributed by hacktivist organizations such as Anonymous and Wikileaks?
Bashan, Y 2012, ‘Arrests Made After Police Officers Injured at Anti-Islamic Film Protest in Sydney CBD’, News, viewed 17 September 2012 <http://www.news.com.au/national/police-use-pepper-spray-on-anti-islamic-film-protesters-in-sydney-at-the-us-consulate/story-fndo4bst-1226474744811>.
Prusher, I 2012, ‘Muslim Riots Spread Across Middle East, N. Africa’, The Jerusalem Post, viewed 17 September 2012 <http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=285214>.