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Digg, WikiLeaks, and Censorship, American Style

Digg WikiLeaks

diggAnti-free-speech/user-privacy articles are all over the news this week. And though the fuss over U.S. net neutrality may have been wrong, censorship is alive and well in America—it just takes a slightly different form.

Military censors(ish) WikiLeaks visits by staff

Concerned by the recent Wikileaks fiasco, which saw tens of thousands of potentially embarrassing (and also, for some forces still in the field, potentially life threatening) facts exposed to the world's eyeballs, the U.S. military machine is closing ranks. Never mind that much of the so-called controversial material is pretty run-of-the-mill for any expeditionary military force that's actually in action, there's a huge fuss about the event as the documents were all classified.

Now it's emerged that all branches of the U.S. military are issuing edicts that ban their staff from visiting WikiLeaks. This is because the source of the leaks, or "electronic spillages" was a U.S. serviceman, and clearly the Pentagon doesn't want any repetition, copy-catting, or any other staff to even view content on WikiLeaks, really. This last part is revealed in an (ironically) leaked memo from the Marine Corps. that notes it's forbidden to access WikiLeaks from any private, public, or U.S. government computer, then goes on to mention that viewing the illegally leaked data will mean staff will have "WILLINGLY committed a SECURITY VIOLATION" and that will, inevitably, have its own consequences. Nobody's sure how the military will enforce this regulation, but that's by the by.

Is this move surprising? Not necessarily, but it does demonstrate that the saga has proceeded to the next level. Closing down as much interest in in WikiLeaks as possible from inside the military machine is an easy goal, before any more sensitive data is "shared" with the world, and before you make any really overt moves to shutter WikiLeaks. By hook, or by crook.

Conservatives constrict liberal voices on Digg

Meanwhile here's another piece of censorship, of a similarly "voluntary" but altogether more sinister kind—really! It's even tinged with positive free speech colors, in an odd way. has published a piece that exposes "massive censorship" of Digg articles by a conservative U.S. political group.

Digg is one of the most important social networking/Net story discovery services out there, and though its star is somewhat on the wane at the moment, having one of your pieces hit the Digg front page is still a guaranteed way to push lots of extra visitor traffic to your website. It's crowd-sourced, and crowd-voted—though there are indeed ways to game Digg's story algorithm, the basic principal is that the more people "digg" your story, the higher up Digg's popular stories list it gets.

But user can also elect to "bury" a story too, demoting its popularity, if it meets with their disapproval or they think it's factually incorrect ... or just because they want to. But Alternet's investigation has uncovered efforts by U.S. conservative-leaning political groups to quash (i.e. aggressively bury) any story popping in Digg's political or news categories that supports liberal thinking. One group involved is called Digg Patriots, for example. This group "meets" in a Yahoo discussion group, and here they plan, and send out requests to their friends and followers to bury particular liberal-leaning stories on Digg and promote their own agenda, at a rate of three to four thousand requests per month, apparently.

This is, if true, controversial stuff. In certain ways it contravenes Digg's own policies—Alternet notes that several of the participants have already been banned by Digg—and it's bound to raise your hackles if you're a supporter of free speech, as it seems a bizarrely "voluntary" form of Net censorship, in the famed "land of the free." You may even deem it a low down and dirty tactic, undertaken by people who fear their own political agenda won't stand on its own merits. But words like that, published here, may result in this story never hitting Digg.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

Add New Comment


  • Emmett Murphy

    Facebook has received unwelcome attention lately for some of its privacy policies and security issues. Unless you’ve made manual changes, updates to the site have made more of your information public. Backlash resulted in further changes fixing that, but you should still take a look at your privacy controls to be sure you’re not sharing more than you think.

    There is even a cottage industry popping up to help users keep their information secure. All this has some people giving up their citizenship in Facebook nation. But, with 400 million users, chances are that walking away may mean leaving behind a major network. A less drastic option is “quitting without actually quitting.”

  • drclue

    To paraphrase the theme song from that old TV series "Baretta", I give the government this advice

    "Don't do the crime if you don't want it on-line".

    So now we are into what amounts to book burning , telling people what they can and cannot
    read on their own time , simply because we disagree with it , or more importantly find it embarrassing.

    If you don't want folks leaking stories of military gunships mowing down unarmed civilians and reporters,
    my best suggestion would be simply to avoid those behaviors.


  • NikkoA

    One could argue 'life threatening' in war is tautologous. Additionally the end might very well outweigh the means in this case. If the information released pressured the US to return home a year early, are lives lost or saved?

    Regardless of the Anti-American driving ideal behind the leak, freedom of word is critical in a world where the stranglehold on information is synonymous with power. I think we all can agree that power belongs with the people. Especially when static is at record heights. What's even more interesting is the general consensus behind the leaks; both political powerhouses (Rep & Dem) are equally sensitive to the leaks. I can't think of a single event in years that has drawn such uniform consensus.

    Amazing and more apparent than ever; solely powered by connectivity, the actions of so few can impact the lives of so many.

  • Chris Reich

    Well then. I say we post the personal most details of your life. How about someone posting your Social Security number and credit card numbers online in the interest of demonstrating how easy it is to steal identity? It would, after all, be for the greater good.

    I doubt you would apply the same standard of "no secrets" if it was your life at risk...

    Or perhaps you might. I don't know you.

    Chris Reich

  • NikkoA

    Your analogy is insufficient. My privacy is a personal right and unrelated to the acts of our governing body we elect.

    If I were to commit a war crime and did my best to keep it a secret, even if it was an accident, my act isn't protected under the all encompassing 'national security' mantra that has become ever so apparent in this scaremongering society. It is unethical and in America we try and prosecute the convicted.

  • Chris Reich

    Your "public/government" point is somewhat reasonable but that was not part of your original presentation. You stated, albeit roughly, that the end does justify the means. On that basis, sacrificing your privacy for the good of all ought to fall into that basket.

    But that's not the path you're taking now. Now it's about the public and the government. And as such, there should be absolutely no concealment of information from the public regardless of consequence to "some" as long as your notion of what is the better outcome gains contribution. That, along with my grammar, is too convoluted to ever justify because positive outcome is a) in the eye of the beholder and more importantly b) is not known until conclusion. Therefore, you cannot say this act contributes or not to "good" because the outcome is not known but I can say, without reservation that it did cause harm to some.

    Sure, freedom of the press, etc etc etc. But we must not abandon prudence. You might not like this war, I don't, but our system is one of rules and civility and not one of anarchy. I don't want a society in which each individual determines, without governance, their own course of what might be individually considered proper. Regardless of our political views, there is a point in civilized society where we must trust the leadership we elect. Should their conduct prove unworthy, we have the means to remove them.

    Chris Reich

  • Tao_Wolf

    It's strange that someone who claims a personal right to privacy doesn't mind it when other people die because their information and activity was posted on the internet anonymously for use by anyone, including people who will kill them.

    Nice moral high-ground and hypocrisy...

    Although I do agree with you that Manning and others who put that personal information out there unnecessarily and without taking the step of protecting the names of civilians are prosecuted for their unethical behavior according to American law.

  • Tao_Wolf

    And more than "potentially life-threatening" to those Afghans, and their families, whose names and locations were published... something that is conveniently ignored (like here), dismissed, called propaganda, etc...

    "Yesterday the account of Mr [X]’s meeting was accessible to anyone on the internet with the thousands of others published by WikiLeaks. When The Times sought to track down Mr [X] to ask his response, he was found to be dead."

    Note that The Times attempted to track down one the Afghans by the name and location released on Wikileaks. The Times later, and ironically, self-censored out his name (Mr [X]) after finding out he was killed by Taliban members. 23 other Afghans were named in the same documents. Many more names and locations of Afghans appear with the latest leaks on Wikileaks. The Taliban claims they will kill them. Assange claims that is unfortunate but not as important as exposing truth about war when asked directly about such occurrences.

    This is hypocritical, unjustified, and unnecessary. True whistle-blowing in the quest for "truth" doesn't result in the death of people unnecessarily.

  • Chris Reich

    Please. First you say "for some forces still in the field, potentially life threatening" and then go on to tell us "Never mind that much of the so-called controversial material is pretty run-of-the-mill". So it's only the ratio of potentially deadly to innocuous that matters? Just because one or two people who might be protecting the lives of our service personnel might be in jeopardy, it's the bigger picture that matters, right? As long as most of the material is damning to the government, a few lives here and there don't count. Digg and Wikileaks are far more important to the preservation of life the way we know it than some schmo in the army.

    If you believe that, I worry for our future. I am wary of people, government, military and blogosphere who believe it's okay to sacrifice others for the grand cause. I think, Kit, that you might be concerned to see your name appear on an Al Queda website.

    But I could be wrong about that, I don't you.

    Chris Reich

    As an "aside", is there any reason WIKILEAK could not have expurgated some potentially life threatening details?

  • Todd Singleton

    "This group "meets" in a Yahoo discussion group, and here they plan, and send out requests to their friends and followers to bury particular liberal-leaning stories on Digg and promote their own agenda, at a rate of three to four thousand requests per month, apparently."

    I hope they realize Joseph Goebbels would be very proud of such a fascist censorship move using modern technology. Month to month I hear more tales of tactics employed by conservative hard liners that correlate greatly to techniques employed by the Nazi party of the 30's and 40's. In their mind these techniques are righteous for their cause. Just as the were from the perspective of the 3rd Reich.