Using Secrecy to Reveal Secrets: How WikiLeaks Changes the World


For my TED talk I listened to “Why the world needs WikiLeaks” with WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. WikiLeaks is a non-profit journalism which publishes secret information submitted from anonymous sources. The key to WikiLeaks is the privacy and state of the art encryption used to keep submissions completely anonymous and to protect the identities of those with the original access to the information. While the identities of contributors are concealed in order to encourage submissions, Assange’s identity is completely out in the open. As a result WikiLeaks and Assange have been the center of many controversies in recent years, mainly due to the fact that many of the documents are top-secret and government related.

In this talk Assange discusses multiple major reveals that WikiLeaks has made over the past years in addition to the philosophy of his company. For Assange his philosophy is to reveal the truth that organizations try to conceal, which he believes is the objective of journalism. Assange directly challenges major news stations for not sticking with this objective and says that WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than all world news stations combined in recent years. Assange believes that WikiLeaks is a tool for political change through the information they release. Examples discussed include the Kroll Report which had large implications in regard to the Kenyan elections and a video of a United States airstrike in Baghdad which led to dramatic backlash. At the end Assange is asked what his core values are and he responds simply by saying that “well, capable, generous men do not create victims; they nurture victims.”

As my major takeaway I found Assange’s personal philosophy of nurturing victims, not creating them, extremely interesting. In this perspective I identified WikiLeaks’ stakeholders as being the citizen population of the world. Assange believes that the world should know about any private or concealed information that could harm the citizens, and so he uses WikiLeaks to reveal it. By doing this, Assange believes he is nurturing “victims” who are being hurt by having important information kept from them. But are these companies and countries’ populations truly victims if the information is something they have no knowledge of? Is Assange creating more victims by harming the privacy of companies and governments, like with the example in this talk of an American soldier who may be viewed poorly after the release of the Baghdad airstrike video?

While this talk was a little different because it was more of an interview that a presentation, one aspect that I found very interesting was the use of audience participation. Approximately two-thirds through the presentation the interviewer asked the audience to raise their hands to represent whether they thought Assange was a hero for what he was doing or a dangerous person. I found this tactic interesting because it provided a good sample of opinions from a group of people well-taught on the topic (or person) being discussed.

(http://www.fastcodesign.com/1662770/infographics-of-the-day-whats-in-the-wikileaks-cables)

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15 responses to “Using Secrecy to Reveal Secrets: How WikiLeaks Changes the World

  1. The part in your blog that really stood out to me was when you share Assange’s philosophy. I really like his philosophy of “revealing the truth that organizations try to conceal”. To me, this is the most extreme sense of transparency and in some ways, sustainability. My question is, is this practice sustainable? Will more good than bad come from the actions of WikiLeaks?

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    • Personally I think that more harm comes from WikiLeaks than good. I think corporations have a right to keep some things a secret and when they are revealed it just creates more victims. I understand that some may think transparency is better, but I think as we have seen in the past with WikiLeaks revealing these secrets usually just leads to more issues. I believe that some things are simply better left a secret.

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    • I do not think that this practice is sustainable in the long-term. While WikiLeaks has created some positive change through its reveals, I think in the long-run more harm will come out of their actions. As Assange and WikiLeaks continue to get attacked by organizations, I believe that eventually they will be shut down. In addition, as a reaction to WikiLeaks’ actions I think that government may take steps to limit information further and become more secretive. By trying to reveal restricted information, I think that WikiLeaks in the long-run will make organizations even more secretive in response to their original activity.

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      • While WikiLeaks may cause companies to hide a lot of secrets it may also remind them that humans are going to slip up and eventually if the secret they hide affect many people. The truth will come out eventually. Instead more companies may become more transparent. Better to admit your faults early when they aren’t engrained into you business model than let your business grow around your faults.

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    • Replying to Anders, do you really think firms are MORE secretive after wikileaks comes into being? because to me, they are already very secretive and wikileaks is around to challenge that.

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      • I think that firms can use WikiLeaks as an excuse to become more secretive. It benefits firms to keep information secret, and so if there is a 3rd party entity that is threatening to reveal their information I think that it gives these firms a great reason to tighten up their privacy.

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  2. This makes me think of the secrecy that is imbedded in Apple’s business processes. If we had a source like wikileaks publicizing the shortcomings of large brands, would it make a difference in consumer habits? Maybe if what we learn in class became common knowledge, consumers would demand corporate transparency.

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    • I agree, it seems this website is very capable of revealing secrets that are not only negative, they are true. If they focused on the hidden drawbacks of our societies powerful companies, they can spread vital information much more effectively than Mike Daisy because the information will actually have merit.

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  3. I think it’s interesting how WikiLeaks’ identification of “social victims” as stakeholders has transformed them into an activist group. In order to protect the interests of these stakeholders, they violate the privacy of these other organizations. By making sure to protect the identities of the leak sources, they are not only encouraging sources to submit leaks without fear of retribution, but also by extension are accepting full responsibility of the consequences of publicizing these leaks. In that way, it’s sort of like they’re sacrificing transparency for the sake of transparency (if that makes sense…). But ethics is definitely a big question in this situation. While I personally think they have an ethical mission because they are bringing public attention to and concern for these social victims, there are plenty of valid arguments for WikiLeaks being unethical, and I go back and forth on the issue often. What do you think?

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    • I like your point about “sacrificing transparency for the sake of transparency.” By permitting anonymity to contributors, it taints the principles the organization was founded on.

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    • Well, yes, they fight the fire of secrecy with the fire of secrecy.

      If I have to choose who has more power between powerful organizations and whistleblowers, over who is in more need of protection, I think 19/20 or 98/100 I am going with the whistleblowers.

      i won’t excuse mistakes by wikileaks or anything similar, but in terms of a more existential question of should they exist, to me it is unequivocally yes. There is just too much history of people being told “don’t worry” by governments and firms and they should have worried all along.

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