WikiLeaks, Anonymous, Bitcoin, and the First Amendment Revolution

Nozomi Hayase

Since 2011, from the Arab Spring and Spanish Revolution to Occupy, waves of global uprisings have been erupting as never before. The crisis of representation helped spawn decentralized movements as a manifestation of people’s aspiration to take the reins of their own destinies. For many, the presumption of legitimacy of their governments has been crumbling. What triggered this widespread global crisis?

Journalist Phillip Dorling traced the impulse behind the Occupy movement back to the release of the U.S. Army helicopter gunship Collateral Murder video and noted how it was strongly based on the work of the whistleblower website Wikileaks. Amnesty International pointed to the role of leaked documents in triggering revolutionary global uprisings. The BBC documentary WikiLeaks: Secret Life of a Superpower also attributed their revelations as the spark for Arab revolutions, showing how U.S. cable leaks shared through social networking sites in 2010 became a powerful force that finally toppled the corrupt Tunisian dictator Ben Ali.

We live in a globalized society where consent of the governed is often manufactured through domestic propaganda or denied by military forces of authoritarian regimes or foreign powers. This use of coercive force is well-hidden from the vast majority of people in the world. The global crisis of legitimacy that seeded the cycle of protest movements revealed the interwoven structure of Western economic and military power, which in many countries imposes a kind of corporate dictatorship under the guise of liberal democracy.

WikiLeaks was a game changer. Their publication of disclosed documents along with established media reaction showed the true face of liberal institutions and the waning effectiveness of the politics of representation. Western media outlets like the New York Times and the Guardian engaged in sensational tabloid hit pieces on Julian Assange and other truth tellers showing themselves to be servants of the managed pretense of Democracy Inc.

In late 2010, political activist and essayist John Perry Barlow tweeted: “The first serious info-war is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops”. Following the massive release of U.S. diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks became a target of fierce retaliation from the Pentagon and aggressive corporate media rhetoric attempting to incriminate the whistleblowing site. When private companies such as PayPal, Visa and MasterCard froze payments to the WikiLeaks’ account through extrajudicial banking blockades, the loosely tied online network Anonymous stepped in to fight this assault on freedom of speech. People then used the decentralized currency Bitcoin to circumvent the blockade and counteract private economic censorship and obstruction of free speech. This cyber-insurgency emerged as a free speech alliance among movements committed to decentralization, the free flow of information, shared ideals and currency.

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