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Wikileaks and the Streisand effect

Wikileaks and the Streisand effect

At the time of writing we approach Christmas panto season and the establishment’s treatment of Julian Assange as pantomime villain couldn’t be more clumsy. (Oh yes it could.) Regardless of the moral and ethical questions raised by their response to the Wikileaks cables, one thing is for sure, regardless of what the establishment do to Assange or Wikileaks, they have already lost the communications battle and will continue to do so until they change tack.

Netherlands based right wing media channel Powned has described the Wikileaks saga as “the first real battle between the internet and the establishment” and they are right. Everything else up to this point has been but a warm up bout, the out of shape aging superheavyweight boxers warming up the crowd for Pacquiao v Margarito.

The “establishment” need to wise up to the fact that every single warm up bout has gone the same way. The masses have defeated the establishment, either with a knockout in the third, or as a result of the establishment throwing in the towel, recognising that victory is unattainable. Not a single bout has gone the full distance. The masses have the great advantage that the harder the establishment tries, the bigger, harder and more aggressive they become.

The pattern has become so established that it has been given a name “The Streisand Effect” described by Wikipedia as “a primarily online phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of causing the information to be publicised widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no contrary action had been attempted.”

The name comes from the American Entertainer’s futile attempts to sue photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for US$50m, as well as having the aerial photograph of her mansion removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. As a result of her actions, the photograph gained far more notoriety than it would otherwise have attracted; indeed 420,000 views of the picture where displayed in the first month alone.

As early as 1993 Electronic Frontier Foundation founder John Gilmore observed that anti–censorship was embedded deep in the internet’s DNA, it was the very essence of how it was put together “the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”.

A quick review of some of the warm up bouts should help to focus the mind.

– Honda got pilloried in Japan when they launched a car which wasn’t well received and then tried to cover over the cracks by getting their employees to say nice things about it on social media
– Lynch Hotels in Ireland online sales have suffered massively after they got caught telling staff to write false reviews into TripAdvisor
– The Chevy Tahoe SUV ran a social media campaign in the States to get their customers to vote for a winning strap–line for their TV ad; “The Earth is not your Bitch” was the winning slogan

I could go on, but don’t have space and your capacity for hard luck stories must be getting stretched already!

In simple terms, you take on the masses you lose. The governments of the world are not fighting Assange, they are fighting an enemy that can grow and change and move and get more aggressive with almost limitless resource.

Even at a practical level the Wikileaks site is now downloaded onto at least hundreds of thousands of hard drives, it is available on P2P networks everywhere. Parts of it are shared on email, elements of it are on social networks. It is everywhere.

Long before the internet came along society started the process of mistrusting big government, big business, and big religion. Its arrival gave society access to information, tools and each other in a way which allowed them to hold government, business and religion accountable. None of us are in control of the message and whatever world leaders decide to do with pantomime villain Assange this is a battle which they will lose, and if they continue as they are, defeat will be slow, painful and public.

By Gareth Dunlop

CEO & Founder

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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