Monday, November 29, 2010

Polluting Wikileaks

One more Wikileaks thought: how do they ensure that the stuff they present is correct? If I were a highly placed Wikileaks hater, I'd just have somebody leak them lots of false stuff, so I could call them on it and reduce the credibility of all their disclosures. Why wouldn't this work? Looking at the information on Wikipedia about how they verify things doesn't tell me much about how they can rule out false disclosures.

Update: Or if I was more a propagandizer than a hater, I'd just send my own juicy propaganda into Wikileaks and confirm it when it came out. If it was juicy enough, it'd become the real story and the media would ignore any other stuff that was detrimental to me.


wsn said...

Couple reasons perhaps:

1) Hard to control either version with much precision. If Wikileaks is releasing stuff on [issue X], it won't matter if you planted stuff on [issue Y]. So you'd have to consistently and constantly plant false documents everywhere to be able to do this.

2) Too much false information will likely leave a statistical trail a la made up polls. (If there is too little then how much credibility will be lost?). So you'd be leaving a road-map of how to figure out which is real and which is not.

3) The juicy propaganda stuff might get you a few good news cycles, but I don't think a few bad news cycles will sink an administration. And if there is something in leaked documents big enough to bring down an administration, then I doubt any planted juicy bits would be jucier than the big story.

4) Even if Wikileaks puts out e.g., 90% false documents, there are still the real 10% out there. That won't stop an enterprising journalist from getting independent verification of the ones she believes are real. If anything, it might encourage people to poke around more.

Anonymous said...

In several of the recent releases of information, Wikileaks joined forces with the New York Times, the Guardian (UK), and Der Spiegel (Germany), all three of which are journalistic powerhouses of the first order and have great investigative reporters. It's yet another reason why we desperately need classic journalism. Of course, none of their reporters could possibly have gone through all the material, but at least they can provide criteria for sifting relevant from irrelevant material and then invest time and effort to check the credentials of the relevant stuff...

Neil Sinhababu said...

Good thoughts, wsn.

I think we don't necessarily have statistical tools for evaluating telegrams and stuff like you suggest in (2). I mean if there were numbers, you could use Benford's Law, but a lot of stuff could be non-numerical. "Iranian dissidents secretly want us to bomb their country!" or some such.

And as for (3), you might not be interested in saving your administration. You might be interested in your own little bureaucratic fiefdom.

I wish we had more of the enterprising independent journalists you mention in (4).

wsn said...

re: (2) I actually doubt this would require much statistics. If anything happens the way you suggest, I suspect it will be a few people will be tasked with generating the fakes.

(I'm imagining some nondescript middle-aged guy will show up at The Onion hq and ask them to do their patriotic duty and make shit up.)

Once you identify 1 fake, you can probably suss out others like it. Maybe not statistics, but a good search engine could find repeated phrases or even other data.

re: (3) True enough. In the US it seems if you can ride out the initial shit storm you will generally be ok. Having a few seeds like that to protect yourself could be a worthwhile investment.

re: (4) You and me both. But even the 90/10 split does give the obnoxious (to the gov't's) reporters access to documents the gov't's don't want out.

wsn said...

Perhaps a bit old, but here is discussion of Assange's methods and goals.

Looks like we are both off. Seems Assange's goal is to make it more difficult for organizations (he calls them conspiracies) to be effective by making it more difficult to plan and discuss things.

Whether it is because they spend time and money producing/disseminating false information (to each other? would gov't's confuse themselves?) or not writing things down or sharing information (like Ezra Klein argued today), they are actually doing what Assange wants.

Whether that will be effective remains to be seen.