WikiLeaks came into existence in 2006, yet it sprung into prominence in April, 2010. Ever since then, WikiLeaks has taken the world by storm. It is being discussed everywhere, from Sudan to the White House. In this essay we try and explore the idea of WikiLeaks and how it affects our perception of the society. Through this essay, the idea is to explore the phenomenon as it unfolded, and ask a few key questions about the world that we live in. The paper will only deal with the concept of WikiLeaks, and not the content. The paper will objectively analyze WikiLeaks through a communications perspective, and not make any value judgments about the ethicality of the issue. This will entail an understanding of how the traditional frameworks of communication and the functioning of the internet, especially web 2.0. The idea is to interpret the reactions of the various factions of the society to the phenomenon. This includes the general public, governments of the world, media, militaries of the world etc. A few questions raised in the essay are, how does it affect the common man, or how does it affect the current structures of information dissemination, and what role does it have to play in the way democracy functions. In conclusion, the paper tries to explore the potential of WikiLeaks as an agent in a better functioning of the democracy.
WikiLeaks: A Cultural Phenomenon
“quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” - Juvenal (Satire: 6.346-348) The most often question often asked of democracy is, ‘who will watch the watchmen?’ And indeed, quite often forces rise to subvert the powers that be. In democracy, information is power. Even more so in today’s age, that has been dubbed as the information age, for reasons more than one. Manipulation of information is as old as the concept of power itself. A lot of resources and time is spent on managing people’s perceptions and opinions. In a democracy, consent is of prime importance for anything to function. And when it doesn’t come naturally, it has to be whipped up. This is done through various instruments of propaganda. These instruments range from official public relation campaigns to as covert as manipulating popular culture (Case in point: The Walt Disney Corporation). This is what Chomsky calls manufacturing consent, or engineering opinion. (Chomsky & Herman, Manufaturing Consent, 2008) Throughout history, all sorts of public relation campaigns have been followed by movements of subversion. The dissident culture is as old as propaganda itself. (Chomsky & Herman, Manufaturing Consent, 2008) From a similar belief and ethic, stems the idea of WikiLeaks. To understand the phenomenon of WikiLeaks completely we need to understand the traditional structure of information flow. The Traditional Information Structure
For this paper, we attempt to understand audience through the theory of active audiences. It always has been the case that the audience, based on the context as well as conditioning, extracts meaning out of a discourse. The extracted meaning may or may not be in alignment with the intended meaning. (Barker, 2008) And therefore, information dissemination is not a passive process. For instance, if we show the same television show to people from different ethnicities, their interpretation of the show will be completely different. Although this theory is not singular and unidirectional like the two step flow theory by Katz and Lazersfeld, still, the model maintains that the process of communication is largely biased by the way message is constructed by the source. Chomsky in his book gives a very potent example of the same process. In 1986, when the memoirs of a Cuban prisoner were released, the American media went berserk over covering it. One incident was blown out of proportion and only selected aspects of the memoirs were highlighted. They ran the same story over and over again, and dubbed Castro as a ‘dictatorial goon’. Effectively the picture that was presented was...