[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Micah Sifry’s been out in front of the new developments in transparency and media for quite a while. His work with the Personal Democracy Forum and his writing at techPresident continue to chronicle the ways technology leads to major changes in American democracy.
Now Micah has written a fascinating book, Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency. Particularly timely as we watch both Bradley Manning’s prosecution and the immense changes in North Africa and the Middle East, Sifry not only talks about Manning, Assange and the release of both the Collateral Murder video and the state department cables – but tells the bigger story of old closed hierarchical systems being overtaken by open, lateral relationships.
The change isn’t only coming from campaigns and other organizations or figures opening themselves up from the top down. It’s also being created from the bottom up, as we literally carry in our pockets and on our laps the ability to connect and collaborate directly with each other, without requiring permission from the people formerly known as the authorities. And when you combine connectivity with transparency – the ability for more people to see, share, and shape what it going on around them – the result is a huge increase in social energy, which is being channeled in all kinds of directions.
For Firedoglake readers, Sifry’s discussion of the use of new tech in politics will be familiar territory. He includes FDL’s coverage of the Libby trial for example as well as some wonderful inside tales from our developing web communities that everyone will enjoy. But he also traces such steps as the opening up of the EDGAR database which are less familiar and form the critical history of how the internet has opened up information to us all.
Along with his important discussions of open information efforts in Croatia and Kenya, Sifry analyzes the disappointing outcomes of Obama’s campaign promise of transparency and apparent embrace of new media. For all of us who’ve watched with frustration, for example, the tweets by P J Crowley during the uprisings in the Middle East, Sifry’s comment that:
Unfortunately, usage of social media tools like Twitter and Facebook have come to be seen as proof that government officials and politicians have embraced the networked age, when in fact most of the time they are still just talking at their constituents rather than with them.
But as Sifry goes on to describe, it is the developments from the bottom up that are the core of the new transparency. Technology provides the tools for connections and disclosures completely outside the control of either traditional media or government secrecy and controlled selective disclosure.
Describing why Wikileaks takes transparency to a new level:
But the reason the current confrontation between Wikileaks and the United States government is pivotal event is that, unlike these other applications of technology to politics, this time the free flow of information is threatening the American establishment with difficult questions. And not at the level of embarrassing one politician or bureaucrat but by exposing systemic details of how America actually conducts its foreign and military policies.
Sifry provides considerable insight into the dynamics of Wikileaks and points out how transparency cannot now go back:
If all it take is one person with a USB drive, the “least trusted person” who may feel some contradiction in his or her government’s behavior prick his conscience, that information can move into public view more easily than ever before. That is today’s new reality of the twenty-first century. It would be far better for all of us if our governments and other powerful institutions got with the business of accepting that transparency will be a new fact of life, and take real steps to align their words with their deeds.
Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency is a book that you can share with friends to introduce them to this new world at the same time it fills out the story for those of us who have been following closely. Sifry puts Wikileaks in context – and he knows how to be a good tour guide to both the technology and the politics. In the end, this book educates us – and calls us to be participants in the new transparency:
But it is critical to recognize that transparency is a necessary corrective to excessive government power. What we are pressing for is not the power to be Big Brother, watching everyone from above, but rather a flock of Little Sisters, watching government from below.