“If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do?” “I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
These are the words of Private Bradley Manning. You may know of him as the military guy who handed over a whole bunch of classified documents (hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables) to WikiLeaks. You probably have heard of WikiLeaks, and its founder, Julian Assange who is pretty famous for starting WikiLeaks and also for behaving less than admirably with two ladies in Sweden. Even though Assange is a very complex and intriguing character in this instance I wanted to draw your attention to Private Manning and his role in bringing classified information (secrets) before the public domain. He is being called a whistle blower but I think if I had to call him something, it would be courageous . One citizen, who in this instance, had access to information which he felt should be made public, made the decision to put civic duty before his duty to the military and his personal safety.
I was watching an interview with Alex Gibney, an Oscar winning documentary film maker on Democracy Now hosted by Amy Goodwin. Gibney has made a documentary called “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks ” which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. Although WikiLeaks have been involved with the exposure of many high level government and military secrets (WikiLeaks Cablegate), the documentary centres around the release of the classified cables by Private Manning. When asked what he learnt from making the documentary Gibney said
[..] you discover that this whole process of leaking, and moral decisions that have been made about what should be secret and what should not be secret, these are deeply human concerns by poignant, sometimes very noble, sometimes very flawed, figures who engage in this.
This statement by Gibney applies equally well to the role of the citizen journalist who is often dealing with “deeply human concerns” , social, moral or cultural. Some will be morally righteous and some malicious, some cowardly and some motivated by profit. Gibney also states
And a lot of what We Steal Secrets is about [is] the Internet and the kind of conversations that happen on the Internet, the kind of power that the U.S. government has in terms of surveillance on the Internet, but the countervailing power that individual citizens armed with an ability to use computers have to fight back.
I have heard a lot of negative things about the Internet but if you think about Bradley Manning and how his actions have made the U.S. political machine stop and take stock of their actions and claim ownership of some of this mind blowing stuff, you surely must be struck with the Internet’s power to bring things in to global focus. In this instance we are talking about the truth and the value of truth. The Citizen Journalist is one person bringing their values and what they believe to be true and putting it into the public arena.
Sure the dawning of the digital age has been a big learning curve for everyone but it is also a huge leveller for all kinds of things and in most cases where we are dealing with injustice, this can only be seen in a positive light.What I hope is that we will embrace the internet and use its “power for good” and when it comes time to decide what should be shared, what is valuable, that we will do as well as Private Bradley Manning.