Evgeny Morozov writes:
American diplomacy seems to have survived Wikileaks’s “attack on the international community,” as Hillary Clinton so dramatically characterized it, unscathed. Save for a few diplomatic reshuffles, Foggy Bottom doesn’t seem to be deeply affected by what happened. Certainly, the U.S. government at large has not been paralyzed by the leaks—contrary to what Julian Assange had envisioned in one of his cryptic-cum-visionary essays, penned in 2006. In a fit of technological romanticism, Assange may have underestimated the indispensability of American power to the international system, the amount of cynicism that already permeates much of Washington’s political establishment, and the glaring lack of interest in foreign policy particulars outside the Beltway.
Indeed, it’s not in the realms of diplomacy or even government secrecy where Wikileaks could have its biggest impact. If the organization wants to leave a positive imprint on the world, it should turn to a different mission entirely: forcing the general public to re-examine some of the organizing assumptions behind today’s Internet.
Regardless of what happens to Assange, Wikileaks has the potential to catalyze a worldwide campaign that could do for the Internet what the Greens did for the environment in the 1970s: start a much-needed conversation about the potentially corrosive impact of corporate interests on the public good, a conversation that may eventually coalesce into a broader political movement. Ironically, it’s not what Assange did, but what American companies and politicians did in response to the publication of the cables, that has given thousands of geeks a cogent alternative vision for the future of the Internet.
At the very heart of that vision lies the desire to ensure that the kind of problems that have plagued Wikileaks’s online presence since the publication of the diplomatic cables are never repeated in the future. It’s an impressive list of difficulties: Access to the Wikileaks.org domain was disrupted after its domain provider got cold feet; Amazon famously booted Wikileaks off its servers; PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard cut their ties to Wikileaks as well, significantly hampering its ability to raise donations. Bank of America went further, refusing to process any Wikileaks-related transactions, even prompting an angry editorial from The New York Times. It is also important not to forget that Wikileaks could have been in a considerably worse position if some other Internet companies—Facebook, Twitter, Google—chose to behave like Amazon and PayPal. Google could have made the text of the cables—or even any pages bearing the word “Wikileaks”—disappear from its search index. Twitter could have followed the path of Bank of America and refused to publish (or index) any tweets containing the words “Wikileaks,” “Assange,” or “Cablegate.” Facebook could have banned access to Wikileaks fan pages for anyone with an American IP address, as it did with the “Everybody Draw Muhammed Day” page for users in India and Pakistan.
While some of the companies that targeted Wikileaks were subject to direct political pressure from American politicians, others seem to have volunteered—a decision that must have been easy to make given all the Wikileaks-bashing in Congress. Wikileaks survived these betrayals; but the myth that today’s Internet is the best of all possible worlds didn’t.