To adapt or dictate?

The readings for this week covered a variety of issues surrounding the key theme  – ‘The Fate of the State’. To elaborate, this means looking at the ways that large traditional institutions have, or have failed to, adapt to new media.

Initially I was going to write about the concept of ‘sousveillance’ versus surveillance. The difference between the two is quite elegantly depicted in this little drawing I found:

In summary, surveillance is the veillance of the authority, whereas sousveillance is the veillance of the plurality (Sousveillance, Wikipedia 2014). Contemplating the effect of the surge in sousveillance (GoPros, etc) lead me to remember the case of Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning at the time of her conviction).

American Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Elizabeth Manning was sentence to 35 years gaol in August of 2013 on charges of espionage and aiding the enemy in the Iraq war. She is responsible for one of the biggest leaks of classified government information in history, which brought WikiLeaks into the spotlight.

One of the pieces of ‘classified information’ which Manning released was a 38-minute-long video taken by a US Army helicopter explicitly showing what has been titled ‘Collateral Murder’. The video can be seen below. Viewer discretion is advised.

Manning was held in an army base in Virginia between July 2010 and April 2011. The treatment she received there has not been officially confirmed, though it can be assumed it wasn’t a pleasant stay. Reports of torture and horrific conditions quickly surfaced internationally and Manning was eventually moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to await trial.

The extreme reaction of the US government is a prime example of an institution not adapting to new media effectively. WikiLeaks formed because people want, and some would argue need, to know what these huge institutions are doing, especially when it is a government supposedly representing the views of its people.

The outrage that the video Collateral Murder was met with should be enough of an indication that this is information that people want to know about, because they (largely) disagree with what their government is condoning in it. Women and children are gunned down in Iraq by soldiers who are there under the pretence that they are helping the Iraqi people.

The modern-day witch hunt that surrounded (surrounds?) WikiLeaks only drew attention to the fact that this was not something the US Government wanted people to see. With modern forms of media such as the internet, it is impossible to simply say “no, you’re not allowed to see that” and expect people to abide by your ruling, especially when it is about something as serious as killing innocent people in the name of your country.

The handling of the situation by the US government shows not only a failure to adapt to new media, but also a naivety and arrogance that they expect cutting off the head (figuratively or literally) will allow them to simply sweep it under the rug. Torturing (allegedly) modern day whistleblowers who share such information only reflects negatively on the institution or State itself and generates distrust – what else are they hiding?

 

Wikipedia (2014) Chelsea Manning, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning

Wikipedia (2014) Edward Snowden, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

Wikipedia (2014) Sousveillance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sousveillance

Youtube (2012) Original WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo22QlP6NgQ

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