There is no denying that the media plays a hugely important role in modern life, and it seems that we cannot survive without the constant flow of information from our televisions screens, phones, tables and computers. However, despite the billions of websites and terabytes of information flowing freely in cyberspace, there is some information that is kept from public knowledge.
Wikileaks is a non-for-profit independent media group that specializes in leaking classified or restricted documents from various governments and organizations in an effort to increase transparency and expose corrupt behavior in the halls of global power. Obviously, this has infuriated many people, and there appears to be one man at the center of the conflict – Julian Assange.
The “Founder” of Wikileaks
In December of 2006, Wikileaks first made its appearance on the public radar, with a document detailing the assassination of government officials from Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Somalian political figure. This first release was conducted by Julian Assange, an Austrian computer programmer and journalist, and the self-proclaimed founder and visionary behind Wikileaks. He was subject to extradition to Sweden for a an alleged rape case back in 2010, and offered himself up in a court in London. However, he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in August 2012, but there is an arrest warrant for him.
If he sets foot outside of the embassy, he will be extradited to Sweden to face the charges that await him there. He has not left the embassy in over four years. When you read about this part of the story, it might be easy to paint Julian Assange as a bit of an international criminal, particularly with all the allegations of treason and conspiracy and him being a threat to national security and assets around the world. However, when we look at Wikileaks, and the work Assange has done over the past decade, it becomes clear that this story is slightly more complex. Wikileaks has become a powerful force for transparency and the fall of shadowy government operations and conspiracies that have plagued international relations for generations.
What is Wikileaks?
That first document exposing the inner workings of a political assassination set the tone for the subsequent hundreds of thousands of documents that have since been released by Wikileaks. Most of these files, documents and correspondences come directly from whistleblowers at governmental or corporate entities. While Wikileaks used to be more open to any and all contributors and participants, it has narrowed its inclusive circle, and is primarily composed of dissidents, journalists, start-up technologists and other progressive leaders who manage and run this impressive operation.
There are more than a thousand volunteers that work within Wikileaks, which is guided by an advisory board of nine people, despite many of the assumed members denying any affiliation. Ironically, for a group dedicated to exposing the truth and promoting transparency, the founders and workers of Wikileaks largely operate in the shadows. Exposing national secrets in some countries, or revealing incriminating documents, may cost you your life. Therefore, Wikileaks serves as a completely anonymous and protected space to blow the whistle on illegal dealings without any paper trail or means of exposing yourself.
While some whistleblowers affiliated with Wikileaks have been identified, and subsequently arrested, the hundreds of thousands of documents that have been submitted and leaked through Wikileaks shows that there are far more whistleblowers out there.
Regardless of what you believe about patriotism and truth in media, the message of Wikileaks is clear; we are tired of secretive government dealings and the withholding of information from the public. Assange began Wikileaks and created this platform in order to provide a safe space for people to expose corruption and leak information to journalists.
The actual legality of this process is hotly debated, given that the Constitution’s freedom of the press does excuse journalists from specific legal restrictions. In other words, if the information is out there, shouldn’t journalists be able to expose it and share it with the masses? There is no right or wrong answer to that, but the arguments over the answer are going on all over the world.
Biggest Wikileaks Revelations
There have been a number of global and national shake-ups as a result of Wikileaks releasing sensitive documents and emails.
The first major one was the release of sensitive United States military documents through a whistleblower named Chelsea Manning. The revelations exposed a lot of America’s foreign policy choices in that war, as well as the “true” human cost of the conflict. Graphic videos of war crimes and unjustified violence being done to soldiers also put the name Wikileaks on everyone’s tongue for a time.
The tide of information didn’t stop there, and Wikileaks continued with information about Guantanamo Bay, extrajudicial killings in Kenya, banking criminality and religious corruption. This has not only made him a target of some of the most powerful people in the world, but also a hero for many people who support this sort of governmental transparency and accountability. There have actually been two movies made about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, The Fifth Estate starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and We Steal Secrets.
The most recent and public release of documents related to the US election, which was already the focus of every major news network in much of the western world. Wikileaks timed the release of documents and emails from leaders within the Democratic Party regarding the nomination of Hilary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. The emails damningly showed favoritism and scheming to ensure that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not receive the party’s nomination.
This latest release of documents had a major impact on the visibility and transparency of the campaign, and while it didn’t achieve Assange’s ultimate goal of eliminating Hilary Clinton from the race, it once again provided information to the public that they truly deserved to have.
Opinions will continue to differ on the role and boundaries of Wikileaks, but this sort of guerrilla reporting and exposure through the advancements of communication and the Internet is changing the world, one leaked document at a time.