With Wikileaks holding a handful of senior political figures to account for indiscretions that they would rather have kept private, the corporate world must be feeling the walls closing in after hearing that they’re next on Julian Assange’s hit-list. In a rare interview with Forbes, Assange has said that over half of the leaks he’s yet to release relate to large private sector firms, in particular the executive culture of the finance sector. He has already said that one of the major American banks will be targeted early next year, with tens of thousands of internal documents hitting the public domain: “It could take down a bank or two”.
Assange and his cohort’s actions tend to divide opinion quite neatly. Supporters believe that in holding senior political, military and corporate figures accountable for their actions, you will make them behave in a manner befitting of public scrutiny. Critics see his work as destabilising and potentially very dangerous – particularly with regards to international relations – though often these critics are the people that have already fallen foul of Assange and Co. According to yougov.co.uk, a lot of people this morning were just enjoying watching senior political figures squirm as their jibes at one another became public, rather than taking any direct interest in the diplomatic repercussions.
When asked whether the regulatory effect of Wikileaks is his motivation for keeping it on its often controversial course, he answers: “I’m not a big fan of regulation: anyone who likes freedom of the press can’t be.” At times, he seems to keep his cards close to his chest where motivation is concerned. In fact, when asked what he wanted the result of the leak concerning the, as of yet, unnamed US banks to be, he answered, bluntly: “I’m not sure.” Suddenly, the zealout in pursuit of absolute freedom of information seems, if only for a second, aimless: intent on defamation, but not entirely sure why.
Later, however, Assange makes the moral purpose at the heart of Wikileak’s corporate crusade clear:
WikiLeaks means it’s easier to run a good business and harder to run a bad business, and all CEOs should be encouraged by this… In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies. No one wants to have their own things leaked. It pains us when we have internal leaks. But across any given industry, it is both good for the whole industry to have those leaks and it’s especially good for the good players… WikiLeaks is designed to make capitalism more free and ethical.”
Wikileaks is a product of the digital age, entirely reliant on the internet to amass and distribute the leaks freely, and without censorship. The internet has served as something of a catalyst for an increase in public demand for transparency. The massive availability of information in comparison to twenty years ago has provoked a taste for controversy in the public that has never been greater, along with a sense of entitlement to the truth. In fact, the development of the internet has brought with it an entire culture of transparency that is sustained by the sheer weight of public opinion and information that is circulated online. “Information wants to be free” was one of the mantras of the original silicone valley digerati, after all, although they were talking about price rather than liberty. That isn’t to say that whistle blowing organisations always enjoy widespread public support. Panorama have found themselves the focus of some controversy today concerning their exposé on FIFA corruption that was aired last night, which is likely to scupper the UK bid for the World Cup in 2018.
As Flip Chart Fairy Tales notes, when Wikileaks hits the private sector in the New Year, it will provide a fascinating insight into the internal corporate culture and organisational behaviour of these large firms. We hear a lot about business becoming increasingly ethical, but while internal processes and procedures remain so private, how can we be sure? Could these whistle blowing organisations be providing the blueprint for a new model of regulatory body, the sort that could have exposed the questionable corporate practice that contributed to the economic downturn? If the present system for keeping tags on the organisational conduct of large corporations has failed us, then surely it makes sense to look further afield?
One thing’s for sure: the affects of Wikileak’s planned exposition in the New Year will be vast. If the repercussions are as serious as Assange leads us to believe, they could well precipitate a real shift in corporate culture and usher in a new era of transparency and accountability in business. Alternatively, we could end up with a situation where the ‘truth’ is never recorded for fear that it might come back to bite you, and where self-censorship stifles necessary debate and conversation. However it plays out, it will be well worth keeping a close eye on the case: there are surely lessons to be learned.