Last week I ranted about the way many Wikileaks’ supporters were framing their work as Information Warfare, “digital bomb-throwing”, and so on. My point was that by playing into the semantic games of the establishment, we not only jeopardize the efforts of transparency and accountability, but we risk turning what was once an unalienable right (a free press) into something dangerous, something worthy of retaliation – a weapon.
We seem to have perverted “the pen is mightier than the sword” into “the pen is a mighty sword.” Don’t get me wrong, it sounds super badass. Yeah dude, we are totally infowarriors throwing digital bombs and launching news missiles at the imperialist pigs!
But this only works in the favor of the authorities, those who would use it to oppress and violate our rights. My colleague D. Eris over at Polizeros did us the favor of laying out exactly how this works:
Over the last ten years, the Department of Defense has quietly been developing the conceptual and operational framework for what it calls “information operations,” or “info-ops” for short. An Information Operations Primer published by the Army War College in 2006 (see the relevant document at IWS) delineates five core capabilities that constitute information operations: 1) psychological operations, 2) military deception, 3) operations security, 4) electronic warfare, and 5) computer network operations. All of these are in play in the Cablegate affair
Go read the whole thing, it’ll scare the hell out of you. Want another taste?
Among those speculating whether Wikileaks has effectively ignited an information war, the question has been raised as to what or where precisely the battlefield of this conflict is. If one assumes that we are indeed in the midst of an information war, then the answer to this question is disturbingly simple: there is no space, whether physical, virtual or even mental, that is not a part of the battlefield.
Yikes! They’ll turn every last one of us on earth into combatants – into targets – if we let them.
And yet, some go down this path willingly. James Gundun writes at the Trench:
WikiLeaks represents the full glory of fourth-generation warfare: the blurring of military and non-military. A terrorist or insurgent isn’t limited to killing, but wields an arsenal of political and media tactics to control the flow and perception of information. Nor is warfare limited to terrorists and insurgents. Non-state actors practicing asymmetric warfare – often activists or hackers – is exactly the type of warfare expected in the 21st century.
This is real war.
Not every war aims for, “the complete destruction of society and basic human decency.” Especially fourth-generation warfare, which aims to break an enemy’s political will rather than destroy his territory. Fourth-generation warfare competes for information, for truth, and Wikileaks is locked in such a war with Washington. A war of politics, psychology, and technology.
It sounds like someone’s just read a little too much into the whole John Robb everything-is-kinda-like-a-terrorist-cell-if-you-think-about-it school of policy analysis.
Basically, Wikileaks, and by extension the Guardian, Der Spiegel and anyone else out there who does the same thing (journalism), is something like a terrorist or insurgent, doing something like destroying an enemy’s territory. This is beyond metaphor, he is explicitly saying that it’s warfare. Reporters are militants, news is a bomb.
That’s totally wrong.
Free expression and a free press are the most critical, most powerful agents we have for peace, democracy, and social justice. Warfare, weapons, and violence however, are precisely the opposite. They destroy, they violate, and they kill.
My personal experience is with citizen journalism and independent media. There is always a force working against you, someone or something that wants to shut you down, turn you off, and stop you from expressing what needs to be expressed. Ask any blogger or reporter out there. They know it’s a constant struggle just to be heard.
But it is not winning a battle or defeating an enemy. It is exercising our right. It is for all a human right, and lucky for me, it is also a guaranteed right by the US constitution. We’re not criminals, we’re not doing something wrong, we are doing exactly what we are supposed to do as citizens.
To illustrate where I’m getting this from, I’d like to show you some videos from projects I’ve been privileged enough to be a part of the last few years.
I want you to see what these so-called “infowarriors” look like, and I want you to see how much their lives suck. I want you to see all the ways that society, governments, and war itself stifles, harasses, and in some cases takes the lives of these people who only want to tell a few stories and express a little history.
And this from the Small World News project Alive in Baghdad:
Finally this from Rethink Afghanistan:
These are insurgents? These are combatants on a battlefield? Can’t we see what happens to these people already, without anybody calling them 4th generation terrorists?
We need to understand the difference between real warfare and fake-pretend-sounds-cool warfare, and we need to figure this out quick. Because in case you didn’t notice from the videos, the authorities and powers-that-be don’t retaliate against “Infowarriors” with fake-pretend-sounds-cool violence, they retaliate with real muthafuckin’ violence.
Reject the information war, reject the authorities’ framing of journalism as combat. Speech is a right, not a weapon.