Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Viral Video: Careful, This Stuff's Powerful

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

For the past four years, the Sunshine Press, which operates the non-profit website WikiLeaks, has caused quite a stir among governments—both U.S. and international—by posting documents and information provided or “leaked” to it by anonymous sources close to those governments. As an example of just how seriously governments take WikiLeaks, a March 2008 U.S. cyber counterintelligence report posted on the site on March 15, 2010 details U.S. Intelligence’s plans to destroy WikiLeaks, citing that there is no way to determine whether sensitive or classified information is shared that might damage national security. WikiLeaks has persevered, although not without its share of censure (it’s been blocked by the governments of China, Zimbabwe, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam and Israel, for example).

But on April 5, it posted what is probably the most sensational material in its tenure: a classified 18-minute video leaked by an anonymous Pentagon source that allegedly shows the Apache helicopter killing of two Reuters employees and their rescuers outside of Baghdad in 2007, which it posted under the URL “” For the past three years, Reuters had unsuccessfully attempted to obtain this video and related materials from the Pentagon through the Freedom of Information Act.

WikiLeaks sent two reporters to Baghdad to research the story and interview the families of the victims and, according to founder Julian Assange, broke the code that encrypted the video. Within 24 hours of its posting, it had garnered over 1.3 million hits on YouTube. Critics of the video, including a helicopter pilot involved in the mission, state that the video is misleading in its portrayal of a malicious act rather than the result of confusion on the ground. But the mushroom effect of this video points up the immediacy of digital media and its powerful reach.

WikiLeaks is currently in the process of soliciting funds to cover the costs of releasing another video showing civilian killings in Afghanistan. The organization has operated on a budget of about $600,000 per year, and states that it has currently raised just over half of that for 2010. It claims to have thousands of pages of documents that it cannot share with the world due to limited capacity, but its method of digital sharing appears to be a cost-effective one: even $10 can cover the cost of releasing a document to 10,000 people.

As Assange puts it, “In terms of journalism efficiency, I think we discovered a lot with a small amount of resources.”

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