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[liberationtech] 2 WikiLeaks questions

Thomas Delrue thomas at epistulae.net
Thu Nov 12 10:18:38 PST 2015


On 11/12/2015 11:37 AM, Douglas Lucas wrote:
> Curious for the community's thoughts on these two questions.
> 
> 1. It's not my theory, but what do you make of the theory that
> WikiLeaks would go under if it were not of the steady stream of
> celebrity endorsements (Lady Gaga, Pamela Anderson, many more)? Is
> hugely emphasized "soft power" a necessary component for a
> liberation technology cabal out to change the world? Or could, say, a
> cabal demonstrate more independence and still be supported by enough
> people who do not need their hands held to the conclusion by Lady
> Gaga?

WikiLeaks are a media organization (by their own claims) and people
forget easily. There's a reason 'news' outlets have big banners in the
lower half of the screen reminding you that the world is a dangerous
place and you should keep watching them to be safe.
I don't think WikiLeaks is fundamentally different, not so much because
they need the sensation but because of my earlier point: people forget
easily and become complacent so they will welcome ways to stay in the
mind of people.

These celebrity endorsements surely may be welcomed by WikiLeaks but
that being said: *I* didn't know that celebrities endorsed WikiLeaks, so
that gives you one single data point on how effective that is. (however
I also don't pay attention to 'celebrities', I'm a grumpy old man, what
can I say)
Even with these endorsements though, I challenge you to ask a random
Gaga fan about WikiLeaks and I'm pretty sure that they won't know what
you're talking about or what WikiLeaks is (I don't think that's Gaga's
demographic).

So in short: I don't think these endorsements do anything, but WikiLeaks
would be damaged more by counter-endorsements.

> 2. How could/should a liberation technology organization with more
> than two million followers tweet in order to improve the world? Could
> it give the public specific, actionable instructions for
> overthrowing governments and corporations? They might have to be less
> specific, so as not to qualify as threats that would get the account
> closed. But the account could massively amplify the instructions to
> the public given by victims such as Doctors Without Borders. Or it
> could organize boycotts of private spy firms such as Stratfor. What
> do you think? People who care about branding might argue that such
> tweets wouldn't fit WikiLeaks' brand, but things can be easily framed
> as freedom of the press/speech or cryptography--e.g., something like
> Israel's attacks on Gaza: you can't publish accounts of injustice
> with Tor when bombed to death.

A liberation technology organization worth its salt should first and
foremost not rely on distribution networks that can and do censor so
easily as well as track everything and anything that touches any of
their online assets in order to get their message out into the world
(I'm looking straight at you facebook, twitter and google).
I think any liberation technology organization which uses twitter or
facebook has no idea as to what kind of dangers they put their followers
and their cause in. Their messages can easily be censored or manipulated
and their followers tracked even more easily.
All it takes is a phone call from the powers-that-be to any of these
organization in order for tracking to start, visitors monitored and
accounts & people shut down. These organizations have shown in the past
that they do not put up any fight. All they need is something saying
that you're a terrorist (ding, ding! magic word!) and they roll over.
Remember, it's not just about you and your account, it's also, if not
more, about those following you! And using these services endangers them.

My point being: you also can't publish accounts of injustice if the
powers-that-be have decided that your message is subversive/criminal and
warrants censorship or revenge and on top of that, and on top of that,
you have given them a central and easy way to track, monitor and kill it
by relying on twitter, facebook, etc..
If you want an example of my point, look at China (or even closer to
home, the recent cases where twitter users in country A do not see the
same as twitter users in country B - and lo, such surprise, the missing
tweets were about politically sensitive topics).

Usually when you do want to publish these things, it won't take long for
you to be classified and treated as criminal and as I mentioned, this is
not limited to the usual places like China or Saudi Arabia. It also
happens in the US, Mexico, Germany, Canada, South Africa.
Think about it though: how long do you think it would take for any of
these places to shut down whatever you use from them, monitor who is
using/visiting it and provide that info in near-real time to the
authorities once you or your fellows have been deemed a terrorist ("Oh,
also, Twitter, we can't tell you *why* he's a terrorist... National
Security and all, but he is, trust us! Now when do we get those logs fed
to us again?").

Step one in any successful attack is always vilification, step two is to
take out the comms. And if you don't have comms (i.e. centralized in
twitter, facebook or whatever), you will have a pretty hard time organizing.

Now, regarding "Could it give the public specific, actionable
instructions for overthrowing governments and corporations?": I wish you
good luck and am looking forward to reading media reports in the near
future about how you are a terrorist and threaten Our Way Of Life(tm).
However, your suggestion "They might have to be less specific, so as not
to qualify as threats that would get the account closed" does not fill
me with trust. If /that/ is what would cripple you, if having your
twitter account closed is what you fear most, reread what I said before!
I only shudder to think about what your organization or members thereof
would do or how easily it would crumble once you hit *real* problems,
like a SWAT/OMON team in your bedroom at 3am in the morning.

Going a bit off-topic here, but...
The thing that worries me is how the internet, which started out fairly
open, has closed in upon itself with a cementing and centralizing of
power back into a handful players (twitter/facebook for 'social', google
for online monitoring, amazon/msft for cloud computing, apple for
location data -sorry, I meant phones, phones!!..- and all of them for
whatever is left). All of these services are centralized in the hands of
entities that have shown themselves not to be worthy of our trust nor
respect.
By using things like twitter, google, facebook, etc and relying on them,
all we do is deliver more power into their hands and further centralize
& cement that power, which in the long run will lead to less means of
getting information about injustice out. Only those messages that are
approved by the ministry of information will get through.
I think there is a great need to reach back to a more decentralized
internet.
I wonder whether the Stockholm Syndrome applies to the internet
community as a whole?

Sadly, I don't have an easy solution to this because I do realize that
twitter and its kin do provide you with an easy way to reach many
people. But as any old fart like myself will be able to tell you: what
you don't pay up front, you will pay for in multiples at the end.

On the other hand, what is the problem with MajorDomo again on reaching
thousands of people? (sure, sure, discoverability is a small factor but
are mailing lists really that much less discoverable?)
And certainly, tor is hard to use and setting up an onion service is not
trivial, but if that much is at stake (/you/ mentioned overthrowing
governments and corporations), isn't it worth it? Or do you really not
care about your cause or those joining you in your cause?

So in summary: if you're serious about your cause, realize it will
become a target in the near future and use distributed, which is not the
same as diversified, comms from the start so that they cannot be taken
out when you really need to rely on them!

Sorry for the long mail...



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