Will the Rise of Wikileaks Competitors Make Whistleblowing Resistant to Censorship?
Since it began publishing a trove of classified United States Embassy cables on November 28, 2010, Wikileaks has faced an onslaught of censorship that demonstrated how online speech is vulnerable when intermediaries refuse to host contentious or unpopular speech. When payment providers, service providers and even visualization software services cut off services, Wikileaks struggled to keep their site online, going down for periods of time and reducing the content they carry. But while the availability of Wikileaks content was restricted, the demand from readers and media organizations to access that information stayed strong. Now a new generation of Wikileaks-inspired websites is populating the Internet — decentralizing the concept of whistleblowing and making it harder to shut down speech merely by cutting off services to one site.
There are numerous other online whistleblower sites cropping up; here is a sampling of some of the newcomers:
- OpenLeaks is the most well-known of the new online whistleblowing sites. Founded by several former members of Wikileaks, including former Wikileaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, OpenLeaks aims to avoid some of the controversy around Wikileaks by passing all material directly to news organizations, rather than publishing material themselves. The source submitting the documents will have the ability to choose how and to whom information is leaked.
- LocalLeaks provides an online service that will send information to 1,400 newspapers across the United States. Sources can choose which news outlets will receive their information.
- Rospil, created by journalist Alexei Navlny, is an online portal for whistleblowers to share information about corruption in Russia. They're currently seeking experts who can provide analysis of the documents they receive and say with some authority whether or not they point to fraud and corruption within the government.
- RuLeaks is another Russian whistleblower site. A project of the Russian Pirate Party, RuLeaks is promoting itself as a “Russian Wikileaks.” It gained international attention after publishing a series of photos showing Putin’s lavish estate on the Black Sea.
- GreenLeaks.org (apparent trademark owners of “GreenLeaks”) is a nonprofit organization that provides an online platform for leaking information about nature, the climate and the environment. It should not be confused with similarly-named
- GreenLeaks.com is a media organization that also publishes information about the environment.
Specific to a single news outlet:
- Al Jazeera’s Transparency Unit is an online portal for securely uploading documents, photos, audio, video and story tips. It’s goal is to “shine light on notable and newsworthy government and corporate activities which might otherwise go unreported.”
- The New York Times, which has been deeply involved with publishing recent materials from Wikileaks, is now rumored to be considering its own online leak submission system.
- There are also reports that the Washington Post is investigating a similar online document submission service.
As these sites multiply, they will still need to deal with the challenges that Wikileaks and Cryptome have faced. They will need to find ways to effectively protect the identities of their sources, provide an adequate media platform, earn the trust of whistleblowers, weed out fabricated leaks, and avoid the wrath of corporations and governments. However, one thing is clear: the strong demand by readers and the media will make anonymous whistleblowing websites a permanent fixture in the future of investigative journalism. Cutting off services to one popular whistleblowing website will never be enough to keep truthful political information off the Internet.
UPDATE (2/17/11): We are informed that there is some dispute as to trademark rights in the term "GreenLeaks."