When it comes down to it, most of the documents in Wikileaks’s Cablegate release refer to issues that had already been covered in the press.
Did we really need Wikileaks to tells us that Mexico isn’t doing a great job combating corruption and cartels? Or that the war in Afghanistan is going poorly? Or that Pakistan and North Korea and Iran are all major areas of concern?
Yes, and no.
Stephen Pinker was featured in an RSAnimate segment called “Language as a Window into Human Nature,” which provides a little insight into why it’s so important that Wikileaks told us what we already knew.
(If you’re in a hurry, click here to skip to the point in the animation addressing how mutual knowledge and dissenting speech contribute to popular uprisings.)
Indirect statements (euphemisms, innuendos) don’t create “mutual knowledge” – that is, the recognition that Person A knows X, and Person B knows X, and both Person A and Person B are aware that the other knows X.
The explicitness of the Cablegate documents served the same purpose of the little boy who told the kingdom “The Emperor has no clothes on!” – creating mutual knowledge.
After Wikileaks, not only did we all know the information, we knew that everyone else knew. It’s easy to deny knowledge when information is coded in overtones or related through anonymous sources. But when the information is fixed, as in the case of Wikileaks, plausible deniabilty becomes… significantly less plausible.
The information about global affairs in the Wikileaks data not only created mutual knowledge, but also created accountability.