Wikileaks reveals power of internet

The spread of information has become more potent as technology has advanced, and we’re now reaping the rewards.

Seán Ó Sé

2010 will go down in the annals of history as the year that the knot began to unravel. Government and secrecy have been synonymous since the idea of government was invented. Those who controlled power controlled the secrets and it became the job of journalists to unlock these secrets to piece together what goes on behind the closed doors. Governments have had control of information and using spin and half-truth have covered up many a scandal or injustice.

However, there is a massive change occurring in the spread of information. This may seem to have taken place overnight but in reality it has been brewing for the past decade. With the advent of broadband knowledge, ideas have been able to spread across the world in a matter of seconds. It is no longer just the state or the owners of media corporations who can spread this news but rather the ordinary citizen. Today, everyone with access to the internet can take part in this global exchange of news.

Wikileaks has dominated the headlines for the past twelve months. And for good reason. The organisation first drew attention when they released a video of US troops shooting innocent civilians, including children, in Iraq. This caused massive international outcry and the US military went on a hunt to uncover who supplied them with the footage. During the summer, Wikileaks came into possession of the ‘War Logs’. These were detailed descriptions of how the US was fighting its war in the Iraq and Afghanistan. For the first time, the public could gain access to what was happening and it became apparent that the US and its allies were on the back foot.

In late 2010, Wikileaks published reports that foreign diplomats had sent to Washington. Governments all over the world, including the Irish government, came under scrutiny as information they had attempted to cover up was released. Some may argue that there is nothing new in the leaking of documents and information to the media. Newspapers, television and radio often publish confidential information that they have received from a whistle blower. However, with the advent of the internet, the nature of the game has irrevocably changed. In the Western World, we enjoy a certain level of press freedom and freedom of information. But from time to time, the State or another body with a vested interest may attempt to prevent classified information reaching the public domain by coercion and threat.

Information passed by print or by airwaves can be censored at the borders of a country. It is much harder to censor the internet. Due to the fact that Wikileaks releases its information online, it makes it more difficult for those in authority to clamp down on it. That has not stopped them trying, though, and the US government has attempted to dismantle this web of knowledge. It is possibly too late as the speed of a government cannot match the speed of the internet and those trying to close in on free speech are losing the war.

Wikileaks is not alone in the spread of information. Websites that most citizens use every day are at the forefront of this war for freedom of information. Facebook and Twitter are hugely important tools in how we spread information. Every time you update your status or post a link, you are sharing vast amounts of information. Twitter has become legendary for its ability to reach mass numbers of people at once. When text messages appeared first, people were amazed that you could send a message to someone, anywhere in the world, in a matter of seconds. Twitter allows us to send a message to millions of people, all at the same time. The US government even asked that the website not be taken down for maintenance on the day of a massive protest in Tehran because they wanted the word to spread about it. It is now ironic that the US government are trying to hold back the tide of information that social media releases.

The internet has yet to reach its full potential. As more and more people connect to broadband, more and more people become informed. The printing press was invented in 1440, but it was not until the 19th century that there was widespread literacy. The internet became available to the public in the 1980s and within 20 years it has found its way into virtually every household in the developed world. If you think about the changes brought about by print, it is easy to see the potential that the internet has to achieve so much more.

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