Conversation Agent - Valeria Maltoni - WikiLeaks, Freedom of Expression, and Need for Maturity


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Hi Valeria,

I think most words should fall like snow on water (diplomatic or otherwise).

We all now live under the sword of assange. Like Damocles who sat in Syracuse's thrown only to realise that a sword, hovered above suspended only by a horses hair, wikileaks reminds us that our words now hang above us by optic fibre. Ever weakening by an insatiable fetish for news and transparency.

Damocles quickly returned to a poorer but safer life when he realised what it meant to be king. I wonder if we'll do the same when we realise what it means to be connected.

By the way, on Alan Webber's comments

"dont say or do something you wouldnt want published... And anyway, isnt journalism supposed to investigate what those same instituitions are really doing?"

First, how is wikileaks( a misnomer ) journalism? It appear selective data scraping.

Second, "don't say something you wouldn't want published". How is this helpful to a species that gossips, gets things wrong, lies, boasts, forgets, gets angry etc etc ? The irony in the statement is superb.

I'm guessing we've evolved to forget quickly and to record only a handful of words spoken for very good reason.


@Alex - thank you for stopping by.

@Gabriele - indeed, to put it with Shakespeare, it's a tangled web we weave.

@Carolyn Ann - lots of good food for thought in your comment. Thank you for the link to the anonymous commentary NYT article. "The knowledge that what you say may be seen by the people you know is a big deterrent to trollish behavior" indeed, shining a big spot light on a person does help keep things civil. And I would love for journalism to become more investigative again...

The whole Wikileaks thing is a storm in a tea cup. Some leaders and diplomats will be annoyed; they undoubtedly have thin skins. Will there be changes in US foreign policy as a result of this reckless mass-publishing? Sure. They will be modest simply because it's in no one's interest to make too big a deal about the leaks. Besides - their diplomats are sending the same sort of information and observations back to their embassies and governments! (They might not be spying in quite the same way that US diplomats were asked to, however.) I think that overall, the diplomatic core is quite sanguine about it all. After all, it really wasn't a case of "if' something like this could happen, but more "when". Most will be glad it was the US that got "hit", all while scrambling to reduce the chances of it happening to them as well!

The revelations will change how some countries interact and it's good to get some of the duplicity out into the open. Heck, if the world was fair, it would change the debate about green technologies in the US, about a nuclear Iran and it could change how China handles and views North Korea. But the world isn't and it won't.

On your other topic, Valeria, anonymous commentary, Julie Zhou, a product design manager at Facebook, wrote an interesting op-ed in the NY Times about online anonymity:

Charles: Copyright doesn't apply to US government work; copyright might apply in other countries, however. And the memos, etc, are works for hire; if copyright could be applied, it would be US government that owned it.

I'm not sure that freedom of expression has the cost of accountability. A whole string of people will be responsible for the wikileaks "revelations", and they are accountable for their actions. They are morally culpable if, when, someone is harmed as a result of their impetuous publishing. Can they be held directly accountable, though? The chap who leaked the cables, yes. Everyone else in the chain? I'm not so sure they can be, or that we want them to be.

I'd be very wary of enforcing accountability. Efforts to punish those who published the cables automatically stifle future efforts to expose government, or corporate, misdeeds. Openness would suffer. (The need to keep some things secret should be obvious. Alas, it isn't as obvious as it should be!) Governments and corporations need to keep secrets; the journalist has a duty to ferret them out. If they're scandalous enough, they should be published. The key here is the judgement call; Wikileaks didn't make any judgement call; instead they tried to weasel out of any responsibility by asking the US which cables should be withheld. Wikileaks' torpid responsibility is much less than it seems.

(Another interesting conversation would be about citizen journalism and Wikileaks. Unfortunately Mr Assange conflates his irresponsibility with responsible journalism, thereby ending that conversation before it gets started.)

We should own our words and opinions, but then I think about the Federalist Papers - they were written under pseudonyms. There's a compelling case to be made either way: allowing anonymous comment, or disallowing it. I've just been involved in a couple of recent conversations with individuals who are so loath to own their words, they use numerous pseudonyms; it was difficult to tell with whom I was conversing! The conversations also took very surreal turns, and my opponents simply got mad at me; they made little effort to defend their own, stated, views. With their anonymity, they could do get mad with impunity; indeed, it seemed like their default reaction: idea challenged? Get mad at the challenger. That sort of thing is changing how we perceive anonymous conversation; Wikileaks is about a different subject: the right of governments to not divulge everything in its day to day business. That the two topics have a common link in accountability is fascinating. I merely hope that Congress, and other bodies, will be circumspect in how they address that problem. Unfortunately the overblown rhetoric we've seen coming from Congress has me a little worried that the government, especially the Republicans, will gallop to an Official Secrets Act. Which won't change a thing, but will silence investigative journalism.

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