Why the wet Openleaks-dream of journalists’ll turn into an information overload nightmare

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Openleaks presents itself as the wet dream-alternative (as one editor put it at a conference yesterday) to Wikileaks, offering top-secret documents, exclusively to individual media outlets. But it won’t work. Instead editors and journalists will find themselves drowned in endless amounts of bogus “leaks” essentially making the service useless.

This is my reflection after listening to Daniel Domscheit-Berg in Copenhagen. Here’s why.

Openleaks wants to do a better job. Where Wikileaks acts as the central gatekeeper to whom whistleblowers post classified material – and then passes it on to the public at large, Openleaks will open up drop-boxes at individual media outlets. These dropboxes are controlled by Openleaks, but Openleaks gives the media, for whom the whistels was blown, exclusivivty to publish the stories for a given period of time. Only if the media fails to actually publish stories based on the leaks, the material is distributed to the network of partnering Openleaks media.

This, in theory, should provide a great incentive for publishers, whistleblowers and the public alike. Publishers gets exclusivity, whistleblowers gets the opportunity to select the preferred media channels. The system makes sure leaks are handled with care and publized accordingly by devoted journalists. The “let’s hurry to publish the story before any of our competitors, and fact-check lateron” situation is avoided.

But the construction also offers excellent opportunities for those fighting transparancy to mess up the whole thing. As I put it on twitter yesterday evening:

If enough false information is posted to the dropboxes, the system will suffer a total meltdown. The journalist who had hoped for nice scoops ready for publication will find himself drowned in bits, bytes, pages, graphs, memos all seemingly valid, but in reality only camouflaged mis-information. And he will find himself having to spend endless hours trying to sort the few good pieces from the ugly ones.

At least this is what I’d been aiming at, was I a hired gun of one of the numerous large comporation or governments, who feels the very thought of Wikileaks and their likes strongly displeasing: make it suffer from information overload on a large scala.

A reply to me on twitter from Henrik Chulu, asking a good question

Undoubtedly Wikileaks themselves are allready faced with this problem. And suffering from it. Actually the dropbox of Wikileaks is  “not accepting new submissions due to re-engineering improvements the site to make it both more secure and more user-friendly”. This is how Wikileaks themselves put it on their website (have a look here). I’ll bet Wikileaks is fighting all kinds of attacks, and actually pushed to their knees.

Perhaps Wikileaks could succeed defending this one single point-of-entry. If they arm up, deploy enough intellingence software, hire enough highly skilled personel to validate, cross-check and sort the stream of information being pushed in their gate, they might be able to stand up against the sea of mis-information.

To me this seems like the most likely scenario: that a human filter is needed. A someone who can have an actual dialogue with the whistle-blower, assesing his trustworthyness, building up trust.

Perhaps Wikileaks could establish such a filter. But to imagine that each seperate news organisation, each individual newspaper who have partnered up with Openleaks should themselves have ressources enough to tackle the situation is simply an illusion. They won’t be able to stand up to large-scale data-drowning attacks.