09 November 2010

Wikileaks and the New Media: A Tyranny of the Minority?

Larisa Breton and Adam Pearson, writing at Small Wars Journal had some interesting thoughts on Wikileaks' latest streak of intelligence coups.

It's not new that Wikileaks is dubious as a medium of true journalism--their selective editing of the 37-minute long Apache gun camera video, and their re-titling of the video as "Collateral Murder" are proof enough of that. What is, however, interesting is that the Internet has become a self-selecting media source. The breadth of diverse opinions on the Internet, empowered through blogs and social networking sites, does not give the everyday user a broad and balanced news viewpoint. In fact, as Breton and Pearson point out (and as Thomas Rid and Jamie McIntyre astutely note, the sheer volume of news media outlets available in the information age now allows users to select those news outlets which greatly coincide with their world views. Few of us like having our opinions challenged, thus, liberals might gravitate to the Huffington Post, while conservatives might migrate to Fox News. Thus, while the Apache gun camera footage might have been horrifying, it scarcely changed any opinions on the nature of the Iraq War.

Jon Stewart's recent "Rally to Restore Sanity" mocked the tendency of a small, albeit vociferous minority in American politics to control the national debate on many issues. Similarly, as Breton and Pearson note, a small, yet vociferous minority of Internet users, ideologically aligned with Julian Assange's anti-Western outlook, also controlled the Interenet debate in the wake of the "Collateral Murder" video. An internet personality, whom the authors refer to as "Bob", uploaded the same gun camera footage to Youtube, although with a slightly different twist. Whereas Wikileaks edited out several minutes of video, "Bob's" version remained intact, save for a handful of edits, in which he clearly highlights assault rifles and RPGs in the hands of insurgents, among whom the two "murdered" Reuters journalists were intermingled. "Bob" also highlighted the reporters' cameras, slung across their bodies not unlike rifles, providing much-needed context for the video. Yet, almost immediately, the video was flagged for violence in accordance with Youtube's guidelines; Breton and Pearson attribute the video takedown to Wikileaks' sympathizers. Thus, not only is the new media subject to a self-selecting confirmation bias, but the dialectic is also prone to hijacking by well-motivated, technically skilled factions.

It should also be noted that the authors refer to "horizontal structure"--allowing the democratic exchange of information throughout a movement--as an essential element in a social movement in the Web 2.0 world. Thus, with Julian Assange's more tyrannical control of the Wikileaks organization, it's small wonder the organization has seen massive defections, and, quite possibly, a Wikileaks spin-off organization.

The topic bears further examination; I felt the essay ended somewhat abruptly and had me wanting more. If I may say so, I think the authors would be great participants in MountainRunner's upcoming Wikileaks dialogue.

But Breton and Pearson need to do the world one favor before they discuss Web 2.0 in the future. Referring to Justin Beiber as an "international pop star"? You're lucky your topic was intriguing...


Eric C said...

I used to blame the media for the one sided POVs, now I just blame people.

Read the comments on Michael C's guest post last week. Vitriolic, angry, rude. None of that was unexpected, but the fact so many people responded with anger to things that weren't in the post, just makes you shake your head.

Same thing happens with the Apache video. Anti-war people use it to their ends.

Good coverage on the Wikileaks stuff. I have some different reactions on some stuff but overall good reads.

Adam P. said...

Hello there, thank you kindly for the plug. You are very correct, people see and hear what they want, so people have to work double time these days to get their message out. What Assange did was so blatantly biased, it's no wonder his Wikileak mates are trying to boot him out. On another note, my soon to be 6 year old daughter has Bieber fever... Oh well, it's better than wanting to emulate Lady Gaga's wardrobe ;)