Trying to put a muzzle on the internet is dumb. The nature of the web encourages users to create and share material easily and information wants to be free.
As we should have learned from the Streisand Effect, attempting to remove online information can have unintended consequences. That is, trying to delete “unwanted” websites only draws more attention to the content on said websites and makes the person attempting to stifle information look like a complete tool.
Take the recent outcry against Wikileaks. In attempting to remove the informationfrom the web, critics have only amplified the reach of the Wikileaks website. And even if the site is shut down, the information on the site can never really be destroyed. Further, if it goes away, there’s a more-than-average probability that something else will return in its place, only less individually targetable.
Remember the end of Star Wars (the real one, not the one with the racist puppets), Obi Wan Kenobi tells Darth Vader that he can never really be defeated. If Wikileaks is struck down, it will only become more powerful than we could possibly imagine.
The recording industry and Napster serves as a classic example of what not to do online. The RIAA saw their files getting shared by music enthusiasts and immediately tried to shut down the system through legal means. The results? The RIAA did get Napster to go legit. They also then birthed distributed clones, now in the form of bit torrent sites around the world. Only this time they are unstoppable.
What if, instead of the world of RIAA lawsuits, underground file sharing and billion dollar iPods, there was a different industry response? What if the music industry had worked with music fans to share content (for free and for profit), connect people with bands that they love and help individuals, music and technology converge in a positive, fun way? Isn’t that vision preferable to the world we inhabit today?
What is true for the record industry specifically is also true for the internet in general. When information appears that outrages, shocks, angers or offends you, the answer is not to destroy that information. This only leads to more websites, prolonged lawsuits and increased attention for the unwanted content.
Instead, individuals and organizations should recognize that information – once it is online – is almost impossible to erase. A better engagement strategy works with established structures of information and tries to compromise, collaborate and adapt. Do not try to forcibly take things offline.
I don’t exactly know what “should” be done with WikiLeaks. I just know that taking it down is unquestionably part of the path to the Dark Side.