Lots and lots and lots has been written about Wikileaks these last few weeks, some of it interesting, most of it not and a vast amount missing the point. Here’s a couple of thoughtful pieces written from a position of actually understanding the environment Julian Assange emerged from and the digital landscape he’s operating in.
Bruce Sterling’s The Blast Shack is a monster but worth reading through in depth as he gives a thorough character profile of the sort of person Assange is.
While others stare in awe at Assange’s many otherworldly aspects — his hairstyle, his neatness, too-precise speech, his post-national life out of a laptop bag — I can recognize him as pure triple-A outsider geek. Man, I know a thousand modern weirdos like that, and every single one of them seems to be on my Twitter stream screaming support for Assange because they can recognize him as a brother and a class ally. They are in holy awe of him because, for the first time, their mostly-imaginary and lastingly resentful underclass has landed a serious blow in a public arena. Julian Assange has hacked a superpower. He didn’t just insult the captain of the global football team; he put spycams in the locker room. He has showed the striped-pants set without their pants. This a massively embarrassing act of technical voyeurism.
Julian Assange doesn’t want to be in power; he has no people skills at all, and nobody’s ever gonna make him President Vaclav Havel. He’s certainly not in for the money, because he wouldn’t know what to do with the cash; he lives out of a backpack, and his daily routine is probably sixteen hours online. He’s not gonna get better Google searches by spending more on his banned MasterCard. I don’t even think Assange is all that big on ego; I know authors and architects, so I’ve seen much worse than Julian in that regard. He’s just what he is; he’s something we donn’t yet have words for.
He’s a different, modern type of serious troublemaker. He’s certainly not a “terrorist,” because nobody is scared and no one got injured. He’s not a “spy,” because nobody spies by revealing the doings of a government to its own civil population. He is orthogonal. He’s asymmetrical. He panics people in power and he makes them look stupid. And I feel sorry for them. But sorrier for the rest of us.
Zeynep Tufekci’s Wikileaks Exposes Internet’s Dissent Tax, not Nerd Supremacy is a rebuttal to a criticism of this “rise of the nerds” thing from the Anonymous attacks on PayPal and the like but really gets interesting when she moves onto what the Wikileaks episode has actually told us about the Internet.
The real cause for concern is the emergence of an Internet in which arbitrary Terms-of-Service can be selectively employed by large corporations to boot content they dislike. What is worrisome is an Internet in which it is very easy to marginalize and choke information. The fact that information is “there” in a torrent, or openly on a website that is not easily accessible or has been vilified, is about as relevant as your right to shout at your TV.
It has become obvious that, increasingly, contentious content is going to require infrastructure far above and beyond what is necessary to support content that is mainstream, power-friendly, or irrelevant. And further, contentious content will likely be cut off from being funded through people-power, as was shown by the speed with which Paypal, Mastercard and Visa, representing almost all the conventional and easy ways to send money over the Internet, moved to cut off Wikileaks. [...]
What the Wikileaks furor shows us is that a dissent tax is emerging on the Internet. As a dissident content provider, you might have to fight your DNS provider. You might need to fund large-scale hosting resources while others can use similar capacity on commercial servers for a few hundred dollars a year. Fund-raising infrastructure that is open to pretty much everyone else, including the KKK, may not be available. This does not mean that Wikileaks cannot get hosted, as it is already well-known and big, but what about smaller, less-famous, less established, less well-off efforts? Will they even get off the ground?
Read them both.