WikiLeaks is a global non-profit organisation that publishes submissions of confidential, secret, and classified information from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. WikiLeaks relies on financial donations from the sites patrons to operate. WikiLeaks has long been a thorn in the side of various governments around the world.  In November 2010, WikiLeaks began releasing U.S. State department diplomatic cables.

The U.S. Justice Department opened a criminal probe of WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange after the leak of diplomatic cables began. Subsequently, PayPal suspended WikiLeaks’ donation account and froze its assets. Major credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and all methods of supporting WikiLeaks were terminated. The overthrow of the presidency in Tunisia has been attributed in part to reaction against the corruption revealed by leaked cables. The shutting down of WikiLeaks acted almost as a prophecy of what governments are likely to do in times of turmoil. Social media sites such as Twitter were used by revolutionaries in Libya. The Libyan government shut down access to the internet, while the same action was undertaken by President Mubarak when similar protests broke out in Cairo.

While the advent of Information Technology has made information more widely accessible than ever before, it has little value when the content is censored and in extreme cases access is terminated.  Currently access to WikiLeaks is blocked in the United States. It is an unsettling scenario when the public can no longer freely and voluntarily finance and support advocates who fight for the public right to freedom of information.

The WikiLeaks case and the shutting down of various social network sites by governments render a very disturbing situation. If governments or business can control the flow of information via financial institutions or create an environment where by analysts and social commentators must temper their opinions, it has drastic consequences for democracy, society, the media and human rights as a whole.

These episodes lead us to another important change in how we view the world. Forced to adapt because of the advent of digital television and more recently broadband and mobile phone technology, newspapers have turned to interpreting rather than simply reporting the facts.  While it is vital that we retain established news organizations that lend us their expertise in deciphering the facts by means of qualified analysts, it is critical that the information is available to allow independent interpretation. A recent example of this is the suggestion that the ECB forced Ireland into accepting the I.M.F Bank bailout. As a country whose pride has been severely dented in the recent years it was easy to give such claims considerable salience, however we need to recognize and insure that platform doesn’t replace content. It is for this reason that sites such as WikiLeaks are critical to ensure transparency in both politics and in financial institutions.

What do ye think? Is regulating social media the way forward or is it a step too far?

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