Now that most of the mainstream media have finally figured out who Anonymous is and that Wikileaks is not “one lone hacker”, some seem to think it is an organization populated by 16 year old boys shouting “Pew! Pew! Pewpewpew!” at their computer screens. And by “Wikileaks” they mean this whole movement we are watching.
We had a look at the origins of Wikileaks. It is possible to follow a shadowy tale from there to last summer, and watch journalists, IT people of all sorts, activists and politicians get involved. But the last three weeks have seen an absolute explosion in the numbers of people in this movement, and solidly in the movement, not just watching.
All of the support from people like EFF, Anonymous, the Pirate Party, etc., was pretty predictable, there is a lot of idealistic crossover and most people were already quiet supporters. But this is so much bigger. Last summer, there were really only a scant handful of people who were vocal supporters of Wikileaks. So scant that media could talk about a “microcosmic organization” and commenters could say “It’s always the same three names.” or “They’re like a cult”. It was truly scary on November 28th when Peter King decided he wanted the organization declared a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda and all of its supporters hunted down. Just 11 days later, that seems a laughable idea. Since the release of the cables, the Wikileaks twitter went from less than 200,000 followers to almost 500,000 and Wikileaks facebook went from 147,015 on November 23 to almost 1.2 million right now.
Who are all these people? Besides the usual internet suspects, all of the best journalists in the world have figured out which side they want to be standing on. Idealistic young people who want a job so righteous that it deserves to be protected by constitutions and laws. Also, journalists who want to work for Wikileaks, the new coolest media outlet in the world. And journalists who are just afraid of being shown up for the hypocrites they have been so far. But these were also the people we expected to join, sooner or later. It is still so much bigger.
One of the most wonderful additions I have seen is the amount of people from the legal profession getting on board. Possibly the world’s most hated profession is actually populated by a lot of very intelligent people of deep integrity and high ideals. People who believe in the law and everything it stands for, and people who have been horrified by the attitudes of politicians who think if something they don’t like isn’t against the law, then they’ll just change the law. The law is supposed to be above politics, it is not a political tool. When Assange said “It’s very important to remember the law is not what … powerful people would want others to believe it is. The law is not what a general says it is. The law is not what Hillary Clinton says it is.” it seems to have struck a chord with many people in the legal profession who have been feeling that way for some time.
The other professionals that I have seen in overwhelming numbers are professors and others associated with academia. Again, this is probably something born of frustration, people who love knowledge and the transmission of knowledge who have had their profession, like the legal profession, curtailed and under attack. To suddenly be of use again, to find a movement that values truth and intelligence, is like finally coming home for a great many people who have been so frustrated with the anti-intellectual feeling of the last several decades. Academia has also been on the front lines of the attack from the US government, with students at Columbia University told by the US State Dept that discussing Wikileaks on Facebook or Twitter would hurt their chances of a job in the future. Joe McCarthy could not have said it better.
With the arrest of Assange, we are seeing human rights activists around the world, sympathetic and hopeful before, but genuinely concerned now. Today the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said “I am concerned about reports of pressure exerted on private companies including banks, credit card companies and Internet service providers to close down credit lines for donations to Wikileaks, as well as to stop hosting the website,” pointing out that this could be interpreted as an attempt to prevent Wikileaks from publishing, in violation of its right to freedom of expression.
We are at the point now where any petition in support of Wikileaks looks like a Who’s Who of intelligent thoughtful professionals the world over, while people of all ages around the world are engaged in any way they can. As the battle lines are being drawn, look around at who is standing where. It is a very interesting and telling thing to observe.