Saturday, November 05, 2016

Information dumps as a tool to smother dissent

    This feels like an important piece. It's a New York Times commentary from Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science who writes for the Times on occasion.
    Her point is that massive information dumps like the ones WikiLeaks is known for, one of which is currently making life miserable for U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, only look like strikes for freedom. In fact, they are tools for smothering dissent, says Tufekci. 
    "This method is so common in Russia and the former Soviet states that it has a name: kompromat, releasing compromising material against political opponents," she writes.
    "Emails of dissidents are hacked, their houses bugged, the activities in their bedrooms videotaped, and the material made public to embarrass and intimidate people whose politics displeases the powerful. Kompromat does not have to go after every single dissident to work: If you know that getting near politics means that your personal privacy may be destroyed, you will understandably stay away."
     Tufecki also notes the vast amount of collateral damage that a massive information dump causes. It's not just Hillary Clinton who is suffering. "Demanding transparency from the powerful is not a right to see every single private email anyone in a position of power ever sent or received. WikiLeaks, for example, gleefully tweeted to its millions of followers that a Clinton Foundation employee had attempted suicide; news outlets repeated the report."
     So yes, we live in an age where information is "free" in unprecedented ways. But what information? Made public by who, and for what purpose? Say what you will about mainstream media, but they did used to pay attention to such things. The wild and woolly world of wide-open public journalism has no such ethical base. 

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