Communication WikiLeaks
by
Andrea Hickerson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0171

Introduction

WikiLeaks (or Wikileaks) was founded in 2006 as a nonprofit whistleblowing organization dedicated to publishing classified governmental and corporate documents while maintaining the anonymity of sources. The organization rose to international prominence in 2007 when it released US government video footage of a US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed civilians and journalists. Notable later leaks include the Iraq and Afghan War Logs and hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables. All of these leaks were provided by a US Army solider, Chelsea Manning, who is currently serving a prison sentence after an acquaintance in a chatroom disclosed her identity to government officials. Discussion and analysis of WikiLeaks as an organization is tied closely to assessments of its polarizing leader, Julian Assange. Fearing eventual extradition to the United States to face criminal charges for publishing classified documents, Assange has remained in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, when he was summoned to Sweden to answer questions related to sex crimes. Academically, WikiLeaks has stimulated a number of debates in journalism. Among them are the questions of whether WikiLeaks is journalism, and whether (and if so how) WikiLeaks has changed the process of journalism and journalism’s relationship to nation states. While interest in WikiLeaks has waned since 2012, scholars argue its significance lies in part in its advancement of the idea that the journalism process can be networked or distributed across media partners and organizations.

General Overviews

A number of books about WikiLeaks appeared in 2012. Many of them were written by journalists who had either worked or collaborated with WikiLeaks, such as Beckett and Ball 2012 and Leigh and Harding 2011. A key theme in these works is the extent to which WikiLeaks functioned as a journalistic entity, and to what extent it needed support from traditional news organizations. In the “About” section of its website, Beckett and Ball 2012 makes it clear that its leaders believe it are a journalistic news organization. Both Greenberg 2012 and McCurdy 2013 contextualize the rise and lasting impact of WikiLeaks by comparing it to past leaks, notably the Pentagon Papers. Both works see WikiLeaks as an inevitable outgrowth of a techno-transparency movement. Finally, Christensen 2014 is useful because it explicates specific phases in the evolution of the WikiLeaks organization.

  • Beckett, Charlie, with James Ball. 2012. WikiLeaks: News in the networked era. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written by journalists, this book contextualizes the evolution of WikiLeaks, emphasizing its impact on the field of journalism. It suggests WikiLeaks’ lasting legacy is introducing a model of networked news, at times enhancing and undermining mainstream media.

  • Christensen, Christian. 2014. A decade of WikiLeaks: So what? International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics 10.3: 273–284.

    DOI: 10.1386/macp.10.3.273_1E-mail Citation »

    Defines and contextualizes three phases in the evolution of WikiLeaks, from alternative news source to media partner to media critic. Argues popular and academic notice of WikiLeaks is prone to technocentric arguments and generally lagging and uneven across disciplines. Advocates studying organizations like WikiLeaks longitudinally and as “research artefacts.”

  • Greenberg, Andy. 2012. This machine kills: Julian Assange, the cypherpunks, and their fight to empower whistleblowers. New York: Penguin.

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    Situates WikiLeaks in a longer history of government leaks and the philosophies of tech subcultures, including cryptographers and cypherpunks. Immensely readable. Notable for its descriptions of US government responses to leaks.

  • Leigh, David, and Luke Harding. 2011. WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s war on secrecy. London: Guardian Books.

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    Story of the rise of WikiLeaks and its leader Julian Assange, as told by two Guardian journalists. Describes WikiLeaks collaboration with the newspaper. Includes a 75-page appendix of selected cables from the US Embassy Cables.

  • McCurdy, Patrick. 2013. From the Pentagon Papers to Cablegate: How the network society has changed leaking. In Beyond WikiLeaks. Edited by Benedetta Brevini, Arne Hintz, and Patrick McCurdy, 123–145. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137275745_8E-mail Citation »

    Describes similarities between the Pentagon Paper and Daniel Ellsberg and WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning. Argues that who leaks and how they do so is a product of network society. Although Manning faces a harsher legal fate than Ellsberg, the author believes the future will look kindly on Manning.

  • WikiLeaks. “About.”

    E-mail Citation »

    WikiLeaks as described in its own words. Includes an explanation of it how receives and verifies information. Describes its work as journalism, but expresses the desire to collaborate with other media partners.

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