Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Stateless Source: WikiLeaks and the Internet

Tyler Charles

WikiLeaks has made a name for itself through releasing classified government documents to the media. In 2010, the leak of the Afghan war documents raised the profile of WikiLeaks to unprecedented heights, and right into the crosshairs of the United States government.

What makes WikiLeaks interesting, however, is its lack of state location. It's not based in the United States, or Europe, or Asia. It exists on the Internet, with servers located all over the world. This isn't one person taking secrets from one country and releasing them within that country. This is a "leak empire," gathering thousands of documents from various governments and supplying them to its website.

Is WikiLeaks doing more harm than good?

I don't think so. WikiLeaks is a gift to journalism, but only if used in the correct way. If we have learned anything from the reading, it is that WikiLeaks needs respected journalists just as much as journalists need WikiLeaks.

Having this gold mine of documents, and making it available to those who are willing to break the news in the proper way, is an incredible tool for journalism in the 21st century. Some will critique the way Assange has mindlessly compiled thousands of documents, without reading through them and picking out the useful parts. They claim that much of his so-called "leaks" are just piles of meaningless papers that don't prove anything.

However, while this may be true in some instances, you cannot ignore the power that Assange provides skilled journalists willing to comb through the information to find something worthwhile. With WikiLeaks, we have a database of documents that can help tip off the media about what is going on behind closed doors, around the world.

It should be noted that while it is worthwhile to have this information, an organization must take great care to ensure that they are covered legally before printing any documentation in a story, or validate the integrity of the documents. At this point, it would be quite easy for WikiLeaks to make a mistake, and even easier for a publication to fall victim to shoddy reporting practices.

WikiLeaks has the potential to change the way journalists do their job, but at the same time, it has the power to bring the media crashing down if used improperly.

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