06 February 2010

Orwell, Wikipedia and Guantanamo-bay.


Winston Smith, the protagonist in George Orwell’s “1984,” worked at a government job he hated, rewriting history to conform to current propaganda imperatives. This week, a group called Wikileaks asserted that the United States military appeared to have a Winston Smith of its own at the Guantánamo Bay naval base, mucking about with the way Wikipedia and news sites portray the base and, curiously, posting odd assertions about Fidel Castro.

Julian Assange of Wikileaks laid out evidence on the group’s web site Wednesday indicating that computers belonging to the base’s Joint Task Force-Guantánamo command were used for the suspicious online activity, including:

“deleting detainee ID numbers from Wikipedia last month, the systematic posting of unattributed ’self praise’ comments on news organization web sites in response to negative press, boosting pro-Guantánamo stories on the internet news site Digg and even modifying Fidel Castro’s encyclopedia article to describe the Cuban president as ‘an admitted transexual’ [sic].”

Mr. Assange’s report caught the attention of, among other news outlets, The Daily News of New York, which wrote about the situation on Thursday.

A denial followed a day later from Lt. Col. Edward Bush, a spokesman for the command’s public affairs office, The News reports today:

“There has been no attempt to alter/change any information that has been posted anywhere,” Lt. Col. Bush said in the statement e-mailed to us. “That would be unethical.”

Bush said in a subsequent phone call that there’s no way to know if any of the 3,000 uniformed military at Gitmo was responsible for the documented changes, but he promised his public affairs staff was not behind it. He also blasted Wikipedia for identifying one sailor in his office by name, who has since received death threats for simply doing his job - posting positive comments on the Internet about Gitmo.

The Wikileaks group’s main purpose is to create an “uncensorable” version of Wikipedia where people around the world could post leaked documents and other things governments didn’t want seen, without fear of the material being suppressed or the source being traced. So Mr. Assange and his colleagues have an obvious interest in exposing government attempts to manipulate popular Internet sites like Wikipedia and Digg for propaganda purposes.


"I have been wondering, as media becomes increasingly digital, how do you maintain accurate records when digital data can be edited so easily? Without a paper copy, if you read something that is 5 years old, how can you be sure that it still presents the same information that it did 5 years ago? It could have been written yesterday for all you know.

Anyway, this is interesting, sort of like Big Brother in reverse.

Be careful, Little Brother is watching you!

— Paul T"

"I read 1984 in 1964, and when 1984 rolled around I thought perhaps that we might have escaped Orwell’s prophecy. But sadly, he has become a true prophet, and his prophecy materialized not in old corrupt Europe but new, hopeful, and free America. It is time to stop pretending that America has any edge on truth and freedom. We are as bad and likely worse than the systems we used to laugh at. There must be KGB and Stazi retirees chuckling into their vodka at our hypocrisy.

— Bob Sterry"George says: Looks like all my idol wrote about is coming true, especially surrounding the military and intelligence services. Freedom is the only way. Freedom of speech, thought and information.

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