Monday, May 6, 2019

Is Hactivism Journalism? Lock Wikileaks' Assange Up!

On my way home from work, while walking from my office to Grand Central Station, I came across a public protest that demanded Julian Assange be set free, calling him a journalistic hero.  Up until now I thought of him as a hacker, criminal, and contributor to getting Donald Trump elected with the exposure of illegally obtained data and emails.  So which one is he – or is he both?

USA Today had this to say: “The release of a stunning trove of sensitive diplomatic cables and entire Pentagon databases nearly a decade ago made Assange and his anti-secrecy group Wikileaks a household name and an enemy of the American government.”

But is that criminal activity?

The U.S. government only unveiled a single criminal count against him, alleging criminal conspiracy between Assange and a former Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, who in 2010 may have cracked a password on a secret computer network within the Defense Dept.

The Justice Department was careful to draw the distinction that he is not being charged for anything that he published.

So, one can print sensitive materials, but you can’t commit a crime to get the information.

London already sentenced him to nearly a year in jail for jumping bail on a hacking charge.

The ACLU warns any prosecution of Assange by US authorities would constitute an ‘unprecedented’ breach of free speech rights.

But where do you draw the line?

Can anyone publish stolen information, provided they didn’t ask someone to do it – and didn’t compensate them?  Can the “publication” of information make one a journalist even if they don’t otherwise operate like a media outlet?

Just what exactly is Wikileaks? In 2006, when the Australian began doing his thing, debates ensued:  Activist or journalist?  It continues today, though Amnesty International Media Awards, along with the BBC, CNN, and Newsweek, have honored his work.

Maybe it’s all a moot point. Perhaps President Trump will just pardon him, since he’s benefitted greatly from Wikileak’s making damaging emails made available from or about the DNC and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. 

But the press is never defined, legally, in the Bill of Rights.  Is anyone -- and everyone -- the press?

We think of the media in traditional forms – a newspaper, magazine, or TV news program.  But it can extend to bloggers, podcasters, social media, newsletters and all type of digital delivery forums.  Still, we think of media as being something specific – a trusted source for information, where an ethical code promotes the dissemination of facts and trusted ideas, where some kind of unbiased pursuit for the vetted truth takes place.  But maybe a renegade who sporadically dumps millions of data points on a website is a member of the media too.

This debate reminds me of one that my high school science teacher posed about life.  He asked:  Is a car alive?  

We then went down a list of checkmarks.  A car has a body, like a human.  It performs calculations, like a person.  He relies on fuel (gas vs. food).  Cars get insured, like humans.  Many cars have names, like humans.  Cars move, like humans.  They rest, like humans.  It goes on and on until somewhere along the line you are able to show how a car is not human.  But the argument, though it seems obvious, is not so easy to make about a car not being human or alive.  The same may be true with Wikileaks.  

It may resemble features of a media outlet, but a case can be made it is not a member of the news media the way Fox News, The New York Times, or even The National Enquirer are.

But even if you squint to see Wikileaks as journalism, and even if you like and support what Assange has released, and see his efforts as a public service, the fact is he violated the law by hacking or conspiring to hack government and private files – no different than someone stealing someone’s diary and then posting the contents on a Facebook page.  We can’t support breaking and entering one’s home, hacking a computer, or using stolen evidence in a court case.

In the end, we want the truth – and to know everything about what those in power are up to.  But the world has rules of justice that we either accept and support – or we end all of that now and just let anyone steal anything and post it anywhere, anytime.  Journalist or not, just put out there every bit and byte about the powerful, political, and famous.

As much as I support freedom of speech – and desire that justice be brought to the world – I would be happy to see Wikileakes shuttered if it exists on the basis of hacking and criminal activity.  Assange is a fascinating figure who may do some real good or harm, who may be a journalist, and who may also be a criminal hacker who deserves prison time.

Catch Me At Book Expo America May 31

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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