Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Frontline and the Cyberbullies...

I found Frontline's report on Wikileaks, WikiSecrets, transmitted 24 May 2011, quite "fair and balanced". Wikisecrets counterpointed critics of Julian Assange at the NY Times, the Guardian, and a former Wikileaker, Daniel Domscheit-Berg now critical of some the actions taken by Assange, with Assange himself and his responses to criticisms. It wasn't in any way, shape, or form one-sided. WikiSecrets even went so far as to portray Private Bradley Manning, that other major protagonist in WikiSecrets, the man accused of leaking government "secrets" to Wikileaks, as a tragic figure of almost Shakespearean dimensions, very sympathetically in other words.

As is so often the case, however--the way humans read TV programmes, films, books, etc, varies for a number of reasons (class, status, gender, family background, personal characteristics, and so on). A group of cyberhackers, in fact, disagree with my reading of WikeSecrets (LulzSec & the Lulz Boat claimed responsibility for the hack job), finding the programme so "one-sided", and have responded to what they see as the unfair and unbalanced nature of the expose by hacking into PBS where they posted a fake story about Tupac Shakur being alive and well and living in his dream home of New Zealand, their twenty first century version, I presume, of the old late twentieth century myth that JFK was alive and living on a (Greek?) island somewhere with Jackie O. Some critics are even referring to PBS, the network of Eyes on the Prize, Tales of the City, Steambath, Vietnam, Freedom Riders, Stonewall Uprising, Bill Moyers Journal, as the propaganda and fascist network.

What I haven't seen from these cyberhackers and critics, however, is a discussion of what specifically they found unfair about the Wikisecrets or how a network that shows programmes like Out and Proud in Chicago is either propaganda or fascist. To be frank I wonder if the critics actually watched the report. In all honesty I suspect that some didn't and I suspect that for those few who actually did watch the programme their response to WikiSecrets is reflective more of their own knee jerk sense of ideological correctness than an empirical assessment of the programme. A cynic, I suppose, might say that some cyberhackers don't care about content and that they are simply looking for any excuse to flex their cybermuscles in cyberspace.

I find the response of some to WikiSecrets and the hacking of PBS to be quite unfortunate. I think, in fact, that these reactions suggest that something dangerous is afoot in cyberhackerland. Why? Because I find these cyber hackers rather like the officials and priests of the religious inquisitions of the past. Judging from the actions of many cyber hackers online they seem to have a strong sense of their own rightness and little if any sense of freedom of speech ironic given the claims of many of these cyberhakers that they are all in favour of free speech and transparency. All hail the new cyber priesthood of self righteous cyberbullies. Anyway, I will make sure that in the future I will show the Frontline report to my students and allow them to analyse the show without censorship from me or others. Hey, call me bourgeois. I will also from now on temper my support for Wikileaks.

And yes I expect the cyberinquisition.

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