June 20, 2024

Wikileaks and Conspiracy Theories on the Internet

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This article written by Ian Vella appeared on the Sunday Times Tech-Sunday 14th August 2010

WikiLeaks Fast Facts | CNN

Although the Internet has become a place for serious research and business, it is often an unpredictable and wild place. This is because the Internet is a free medium — a place where anyone can publish just about anything. There are hardly any restrictions on what can or cannot be published or leaked and subsequently viewed by the general public.

Take, for instance, the multitude of conspiracy theories that flourish on the Internet. Just Google “conspiracy theories”, and you are sure to come across thousands of them, many of which are incredibly absurd.  Elvis is still alive many would claim! JFK was assassinated by the Vatican, the US president is controlled by aliens and the music industry is planting subliminal messages in the minds of listeners.  These are just a few of the most evident examples!

Others talk of secret medical examinations and experiments on unsuspecting patients by villainous doctors. Many of these conspiracy theories have become extremely popular simply because people like to read about them — there’s a kind of thrill that they get out of them.

The fact is that, most of these theories are quite ridiculous and most are evidently false however since WikiLeaks.com has been launched in January 2007 conspiracy theories took a somber turn of events.  Wikileaks is a website similar to wikipedia and wikitravel in concept, whereby the website itself is user edited and the content may be uploaded by anyone in the world.  The owners of wikileaks.com describe this website as a “Multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public.  WikiLeaks endeavors to civilize private companies by exposing uncivil plans and behavior. Just like a country, a corrupt or unethical company is a menace to all inside and outside it.”  This means that someone can submit a theory and others continue building on it, either approving or disapproving it.  Most of time the editors request supporting documents before publishing any story.  Wikileaks is controlled by a non-profit Swedish organization and today counts in excess of 1.2 million documents on this website.

Wikileaks was the catharsis for the creation of the ‘online conspiracy community’. These people actively post theories, read them religiously, and participate in online discussions.  Theirs is an entirely different world, a parallel universe of believers.

Most of the attacks and media frenzy from wikileaks is directed towards governments or corrupt governmental officals   It is therefore not a surprise to learn that Wikileaks founders and members have repeatedly complained about continuing harassment and surveillance by law enforcement and government intelligence organizations, including extended detention, seizure of computers and various threats.  This means that governments are taking notice. Several governments around the world are doing everything they can to shut down this site. China completely censors wikileaks, Germany raided the wikileaks domain host in March 2009 however the site was only put offline for a couple of days whilst the Australian government is also currently proposing legislation to censor wikileaks after sensitive documents pertaining to the Australian Communications legislation were leaked on wikileaks itself and is causing immense embarrassment to top government officials.

Amongst the most famous disclosures on wikileaks we find intercepts of pager messages from the day of the September 11 attacks, including messages between Pentagon officials and New York City Police Department.

In November 2007, a whistleblower published entire procedures and documents related to prisoners detained in Guantanamo bay, sparking an international debate about prisoners’ rights which were violated on a daily basis.  This incident embarrassed President George Bush up to the point that he covertly pressured, tough unsuccessfully, for the removal of this website.

In 2009 wikileaks published documents showing that toxic dumping had occurred in the Ivory coast, which according to the UN affected 180,000 people.  The responsible multinational swiss-based company Trafigura was subsequently found guilty of illegally disposing the toxic waste in this country instead of properly processing it.  Several top executives ended up in jail following this leak and Trafigura had to pay 152 million euro in damages to the Ivory Coast

Most recently in May 2010 a top secret video filmed in 2007 was released on wikileaks containing footage of uncensored murders of innocent civilians by the US airforce in Iraq and the subsequent attempt to coverup everything, the footage includes a clear view of a US helicopter shooting a civilian ambulance.  The US army was highly embarassed by this event and decided to arrest and interrogate all officials who could have been involved in the leak however charged no one in conjunction to this incident.

The owners of wikileaks claim that on average 30 times a day, somebody submits a document to this cyber-whistleblower which is later posted online for everyone to see.   Wikileaks operators do all they can to protect the identity of the whistleblowers and so far, out of the thousands of documents submitted, no Government or other private company managed to find proof leading to the whistleblowers via the wikileaks organization.

The creation and popularity of WikiLeaks has given conspiracy theorists a boost. They now have a forum and a central database that receives worldwide attention.   Wikileaks said that what has been released up to now is nothing compared to what’s coming later this year, mainly they are citing a video which shows a massacre of civilians that allegedly happened in Afghanistan after soldiers were following orders

Ian Vella

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