Depending on where or what you read about WikiLeaks, or with whom you discuss its impact, you’re bound to get different opinions.
Those discussions often lead to questions such as “what is WikiLeaks?” Or the bigger question: “how does WikiLeaks affect me?”
The first question is easy to answer. The second question, not so much.
Reading the WikiLeaks entry on the other well-known wiki, Wikipedia, probably provides the most balanced description.
According to Wikipedia, WikiLeaks is a “non-profit organization that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. Its website claims a database of 10 million documents in 10 years since its launch. Julian Assange is generally described as its founder, editor-in-chief and director.”
That’s a fair and balanced definition. Even if WikiLeaks doesn’t like it, they can just hack in and change it, right?
However, WikiLeaks takes a more nuanced approach to describing what it is they do.
According to its site, “WikiLeaks specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption.”
Releasing documents on war and spying bothers some people. Releasing corruption details is met with less resistance (except from the corrupt individuals and governments, of course).
In a Der Spiegel interview, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said, “WikiLeaks is a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents. We give asylum to these documents, we analyze them, we promote them and we obtain more.”
In essence, WikiLeaks positions itself as a window into in the deepest, darkest, and often illegal, corners of governments and corporations.
WikiLeaks made headlines last week by publishing a large collection of secret CIA documents. The ominously named “Vault 7” contains 8,761 pages of classified files.
In its press release, WikiLeaks promised this document dump to be the first in the “Year Zero” series. The series promises to focus on documents given to WikiLeaks that expose the CIA’s plan to gather information from digital devices.
So, the CIA has hacking capabilities. That’s not news.
So, the CIA can use security flaws in iPhones and Samsung TVs. That’s news. I’m not an investor, but I suspect that news didn’t help Apple or Samsung stock prices.
That’s what WikiLeaks is and does. They take secret documents, like those leaked to them from the CIA, and make them publicly available to be scrutinized and, to some extent, to shame government agencies and leaders.
As for that second question, how WikiLeaks affects you. I’ve had the “WikiLeaks make us stronger/weaker” debate, and the “we are safer/unsafe with WikiLeaks” argument, more than I care to count.
Even if the CIA isn’t spying on Americans, someone might be. Take the proper steps to protect your private information and, as always, avoid sharing those salacious secrets on social media.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.