WikiLeaks is arguably online content’s greatest success story. Tick Content profiles a man on a mission…
In the world of online content, there is no more important or revolutionary figure today than Julian Assange. Love him or hate him, there is no denying the impact he and WikiLeaks, the online organ he founded in 2006, have had on the world of media and politics.
Julian Assange is a man who has been at the centre of both personal and professional controversies, although depending on who you believe, the two are inextricably linked. Like Richard Branson or Steve Jobs, he is woven into the fabric of the work he does, and one whose persona, background and belief system informs the tone of everything his organisation stands for.
Born in Townsville in 1971, Assange had what can only be described as an unusual childhood. First touring with a theatre company run by his mother and stepfather (from whom he took the surname Assange) and later relocating with his mother and her next husband to what he describes as a ‘cult’ in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, his keen sense of social justice developed early. He credits his stepfather with helping him establish his core values, which he described in a recent interview as follows:
‘Capable, generous men do not create victims, they nurture victims.’
You may be forgiven for scoffing at the image of the somewhat prickly Assange as a ‘nurturer’, and in fact he addresses the issue himself, admitting ‘I’m a combative person, so I’m not so big on the nurture… but there is another way of nurturing victims, which is to police the perpetrators of crimes.’
It is this belief system that has propelled the tireless and often dangerous work of WikiLeaks, and has also, one suspects, been a major factor in why Assange has not yet succumbed to the enormous pressure placed on him by several world powers.
WikiLeaks demonstrates the power of online content
In the last few years, WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than the rest of the world’s media combined, singlehandedly affirming that not only can online content hold its own against traditional media, but that, in a broader context, it is an essential information source for huge swathes of the global population.
Through a highly complex system of acquiring and verifying information, WikiLeaks publishes the information that – for various reasons – governments and big businesses do not want us to see.
On one hand, this is seen as an incredibly brave and revolutionary mission, and Assange is held as a pioneer of human rights and free speech. On the other, there have been concerns raised that the sensitivity of the information leaked can endanger the lives of the sources, techs and journalists who work to make them public. There is also the question posed of what system is in place to ensure the neutrality of WikiLeaks.
But there is no denying the fact that WikiLeaks has changed the face of journalism and political transparency. It has influenced the outcomes of elections by making public information that had been buried – corruptly or otherwise – and has pulled the veil from the face of Big Government. It has even been credited with sparking the Tunisian revolution.
Online content trumps traditional media
Footage leaked from a US air strike on Baghdad shows US military firing on a group of people from above. In the footage the soldiers can clearly be heard laughing, and it is later revealed that two Reuters journalists were among the dead, with women and children among the injured. When asked whether he worried that the footage of the actions of a few would hamper the good work of many others in Iraq by turning local opinion against the allied forces, Assange replied:
‘Remember the people in Baghdad, the people in Iraq, the people in Afghanistan, they don’t need to see the video. They see it every day. So it’s not going to change their opinion, it’s not going to change their perception… It will change the perception of the people paying for it all. And that’s what we want to do.’
To hear him speak, Assange gives the impression of a slightly awkward public figure, not quite at ease in the spotlight but nonetheless determined and defensive. Currently fighting extradition from the UK to Sweden, where he is due to stand trial on charges (politically motivated ones, he claims) of rape, he is an undoubtedly polarising figure – one who seems to encompass several personas at once.
There is the hint of the harangued, of the cornered animal, in that the harder he is pushed the harder he will push back. He has the zeal of a convert and seems to possess a self-assuredness in his statements that no doubt originates in the sheer breadth of information he holds between his ears. He also conveys an almost Zuckerberg-esque arrogance that is surely the domain of the super-intelligent; as though he is somewhat frustrated at the slowed pace he must operate within for his interviewer, or for his audience.
Within all of this, however, is a charming absent-minded professor quality, which he displayed for a brief flash during a recent TED Talk with Chris Anderson, when his phone rang in his pocket during the live interview, allowing a glimpse into the lanky, awkward and flustered IT guy he may have been destined to remain were he not so driven by his righteous mission.
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