Assange poster

100 sides to every story: more perspectives on forced transparency

I’ve heard that there are usually three sides to every story:  yours, mine and the truth.  I’m starting to believe that axiom is changing.  Today, there are probably 100 sides to every story. 

Blame it on rise of social networks, citizen broadcasting and, now, the forced disclosures of copious and raw information proffered through WikiLeaks and its copycats.   Since every person and institution carries a bias, everyone has a competing claim to what they view as truth as all of this information gets publicly dissected. 

This is not necessarily good or bad.  It does raise challenges.

As I stated in my original post on WikiLeaks, we can only begin to scratch the surface on effects and implications for businesses.  As predicted, spinoff sites are already propagating and the leading contender, OpenLeaks, is rumored to launch on Monday.  Therefore, since I already opened this Pandora’s Box with my first post, I thought I’d follow up with more perspectives and implications from the best articles I’ve read since last week:

  • This article from The New York Times highlights the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to determine if Assange encouraged or helped Pfc. Manning to gain access to the classified data.  This would make Assange a conspirator and would fundamentally undermine his position as “one who simply provides the vehicle for leakers.”  Corporate communicators would be unwise to think a prosecution here will provide a respite.  The copycat sites will likely render WikiLeaks and Assange as merely a footnote.
  • Reason magazine raises two possible outcomes of forced disclosures.  It opines that some companies will keep fewer secrets and behave more carefully, or some will “…try harder not to be caught.”  I don’t like the author’s implication that companies are only shadowy, reckless, or both.  I think one other possible outcome is missing:  that companies and individuals may exhibit more caution with all written, digital transmissions.  It will take time, but the pendulum can swing back on this.  All history is cyclical – there’s no reason to believe that our networked world will always remain as candid and open as it is today.  I also think that “digital fingerprinting” will make electronic communications (and leak sources) less anonymous, which will lead to less leaks.  This article from The New York Times raises several other reasons that future secrets may be kept WikiSafe.
  • This perspective from The Economist provides a number of interesting insights, including this quote:  “…this is not really the WikiLeaks story, but the Bradley Manning story, if indeed he was the source.”  Excellent point.  It will be the leakers – the whistleblowers, the disgruntled, the oppressed, the angry – who pack the powder kegs with information and data.   WikiLeaks (and its copycats) provide only the match. 
  • There have been several articles about hackers who have found a cause in Assange and WikiLeaks.  These hackers have initiated denial-of-service attacks against MasterCard, Visa and PayPal, among others.  Forbes’ reporter Andy Greenberg explained how the hackers were growing ranks through a group called Anonymous, and later also reported that these efforts were a bit of a sideshow and that WikiLeaks itself has begun to distance themselves from the effort.    
  • Embedded below is a documentary (English version) from SVT in Sweden that provides some insights into the origins and motivations behind Assange and his supporters.  I find the film to shade empathetic with Assange, but still worth a watch:

 

  • PRSA CEO Gary McCormick provides some of his thoughts on this opinion post on AOL. Where I agree with McCormick is “…we’re in for a very interesting 2011.” Where I disagree is the notion that the solution to pre-empting a future WikiLeaks-like attack is to “Be as transparent as possible.” That may work for certain types of disclosures: bad events that have remained quiet, bad actors that should have been reprimanded, etc. I still believe that many future leaks will include: emails and conversations taken out of context, seminal ideas that would never have gotten a company’s legal or executive approval, bad actors that have flown under a company’s internal radar screen, subjective “facts” that are told from the perspective of a disgruntled employee, etc. How far should the kimono open on these latter types of situations? Full, proactive transparency will not be a universal tonic, nor is it entirely realistic, in my view.

As always, if you have thoughts or comments to share, please do.

Dec. 20 Updates: 

Dec. 29 Updates:

  • Shel Holtz makes a compelling case on why WikiLeaks might be the most overhyped story of 2010 on his blog.  I agee with many of his points, yet I think Shel is underestimating the power of WikiLeaks as a focal point for like-minded copycats that will come.  Kinda like how Napster wasn’t the first music-share site, but the attention brought to it emboldened others to copy the model.
  • This opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Floyd Abrams (sub. required) highlights bold points on why WikiLeaks is unlike the Pentagon Papers.  Here’s my favorite callout from his article:

The Pentagon Papers revelations dealt with a discrete topic, the ever-increasing level of duplicity of our leaders over a score of years in increasing the nation’s involvement in Vietnam while denying it. It revealed official wrongdoing or, at the least, a pervasive lack of candor by the government to its people.

WikiLeaks is different. It revels in the revelation of “secrets” simply because they are secret. It assaults the very notion of diplomacy that is not presented live on C-Span. It has sometimes served the public by its revelations but it also offers, at considerable potential price, a vast amount of material that discloses no abuses of power at all.

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