Attack, accident, or misdirection? Here's some analysis from the attack perspective.
The war between Wikileaks and its opponents (governments, corporations, etc.) took an interesting turn on Sunday (22 August 2010). A battle was fought online, within the global social network. Here's how it played out. In rapid succession:
- Julian Assange was charged with rape (in Sweden) and an arrest warrant was issued,
- the swedish tabloid Expressen "broke" the story, and
- a swedish judge threw out the charge.
The attack appears to be calculated. The attack was outrageous and highly likely to generate massive coverage: a charge of rape. Guaranteed to avoid immediate counters at both the prosecutorial and media level: Two different women made a charge at the same time. Indirect: the charge of rape routed around the barriers (both legal and moral) that Wikileaks had erected in its defense. Surprising: it was done on Sunday to maximize coverage and minimize mitigating commentary in the traditional media. Fast: it was immediately "leaked" by Expressen and immediately amplified within the global social media network.
Unfortunately (for Wikileaks), despite preparation against "dirty tricks", the attack was relatively successful. The iTV Momentum index measurement for the Expression "leak" was one order of magnitude higher than all other stories associated with Wikileaks over the past weeks. Even if I totaled all the efforts at damage mitigation together (that the charge was thrown out by a judge - and - claims that the charges were fabricated), they are still far outweighed by the social media attack initiated by the Expressen article.
Some factors still in play:
- Will Wikileak's open source network fragment? This is unlikely.
- Will Julian Assange be replaced as the movement's figurehead? Unlikely, although this event might generate an effort to decentralize. More targets = less vulnerability.
- Will this drive a rift between Wikileaks and Sweden? Will Sweden be considered safe anymore for Assange in particular and Wikileaks in general? This is too close to call. This might depend on the vigorousness of the defense afforded by Sweden's PPI.