The Many Fronts of the First Infowar
John Perry Barlow has made a call to arms (via Twitter): “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”
That’s a little grandiose to my taste. But among the many interesting things going on here is the prominent role of nonstate actors. The battleground players include:
Domain name services: On the first day, a major denial of service attack was launched (apparently by a private party) against the Wikileaks site. Amazon dropped service to Wikileaks, but the “Swiss Pirate Party” picked it up. Lots of people have set up “mirror” sites in part as insurance in the event the main Wikileaks site gets taken down.
Payment systems: Paypal stopped processing payments to Wikileaks. Visa and Mastercard have followed this morning. The Swiss PostFinance Bank shut down a Wikileaks account.
Social media: As Kevin points out below, Facebook is keeping the Wikileaks page up. Wikileaks-supportive tweets continue at what appears to be a manic pace (many against as well). Some worry that Twitter is omitting the subject from its “trending topics”, which Twitter has denied. There’s even a brouhaha about whether Time has blocked Assange votes in its balloting for Person of the Year (apparently not – he’s enjoying a comfortable lead).
The possibility is that powerful private actors can shut Assange down, or at least are an important part of any effort to do so. That’s the noose that’s tightening. (See this Guardian timeline of attacks on Wikileaks – only a few are governmental.) All of this is at least nominally in the shadow of the law — those that have taken action against Wikileaks have cited legal justifications. But one wonders whether the legal arguments were window dressing for actions that would have been taken in any case. And I suspect that private actors who defy calls to cut Wikileaks off will not face legal action (Roger’s kind of argument notwithstanding).
On the other side of the field are Barlow’s troops. They have reacted furiously against the corporate moves. There have been calls to boycott Amazon and Paypal; although I’m pretty skeptical that these will have much traction, you can bet that they are monitoring the situation closely. “Internet activists” did take down the PostFinance Bank website (it’s still down now). The mirroring and other work-arounds may be effective, and it seems pretty clear that the 250,000 cables will all eventually see the light of day. Is that evidence of victory?
Of course the more traditional state-administered noose is now also tightening, albeit in an oblique way (through the non-Wikileaks, sex-crimes charges against Assange). “The authorities” of one description or another are clearly leaning on private actors to advance US objectives. The state is still the key player, but it can no longer fight these wars on its own.