2010 as a Tipping Point for Content Transparency (image via JunkThief )
“By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent.” – attributed to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
“The aim of Wikileaks is to achieve just reform around the world and do it through the mechanism of transparency.” – Julian Assange, Wikileaks
In case you haven’t noticed already, we live in public. More and more, as individuals, we’re sharing our private lives online, but, increasingly, many organizations are finding their content exposed to the larger public, as well. Not only was 2010 the year that saw Facebook loom larger than ever in the public consciousness, the subject not just of endless controversy and design releases, but also of a surprisingly compelling flick; but it was also the year of Wikileaks. Julian Assange became a household name as he and his team obtained and began publishing sensitive documents on a scale heretofore unseen in human history. David Fincher must be reviewing scripts already to depict that ongoing saga, ripe with salacious details and criminal intrigue as it is.
Increasingly, the internal is becoming external, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Time’s Person of the Year in 2010 came down to an arm wrestle between Mark Zuckerberg and Assange. And whether you agree with their missions or not, you’d ignore at your peril the enormous impact of their work upon the private and public realms. Both operate within a worldview that proclaims transparency as the default. And the impact of those beliefs is what made 2010 such a watershed year. Our eagerness to dwell within the ever-growing online environment ensures certain trade-offs, which we seem increasingly willing to accept. As we (private citizens or public companies) place sensitive content on the Web, we reap obvious benefits, but we also take great risks. We offer our personal information in exchange for tools, information and a stronger social network. But we also risk sharing our information (wittingly or unwittingly) with any number of corporations or individuals. The success of Wikileaks means that anyone with an email account or a flash drive can become an international hero or a Benedict Arnold overnight, depending on your point of view.
We also learned this year that if someone were successful in shutting Wikileaks down, the dynamics which made it a success are now so well-known and so attractive that they ensure another entity will step up to take its place. In fact, a number of Assange’s colleagues, frustrated by working with him, recently announced that they’ve founded a new organization, Open Leaks, which contends it will do the same thing as Wikileaks but with more thorough procedures for vetting obtained documents. Chopping off Assange then (for whatever real or perceived faults) would remove but one head from the Hydra. The ease of publishing such documents and the powerful impact of doing so mean permanent change to the very fabric of our society.
What are the impacts for content professionals then? They’re huge. We already work in an environment where our efforts are under broad scrutiny. But now the stakes have risen. When advising clients on how to conduct themselves online, the onus is on us to remind them that if their content isn’t public now, it may be in the future. Transparency means always considering the implications of that possibility. Publish as if your content may be more broadly distributed in the future. By all means, maintain a tone appropriate to your audience. Just realize it may not always remain for their eyes only. It isn’t that content wants to be free: it’s that content may be freed, despite all efforts to the contrary.
Also, consider the impact upon Master Card, Visa, PayPal and other companies which decided not to process transactions for Wikileaks. How do they control the messaging around their decision? Do they have a social media strategy for handling the resulting protests? Or do they just ignore them? And how do they explain their service interruption to customers when fans of Wikileaks organize to bring their sites down? It’s a strange new world we live in when you can visit Mastercard.com only to find a stark “page not found” message because Anonymous has rendered their site inoperable via a DDoS attack.
We’ll continue to debate the pros and cons of this increased transparency, but one clear pro may be a greater insistence upon integrity, a symmetry between public and private personas – whether among people, politicians or corporations.
Welcome to the new transparency.
Want to know more?
So, Why Is Wikileaks a Good Thing Again? – single serving site
Wikileaks Evolves – Raffi Khatchadourian, The New Yorker
Wikileaks in the Moral Void – Christian Caryl, The New York Review of Books
Wikirebels – documentary created by Swedish Television about Wikileaks