Yochai Benkler: A Free Irresponsible Press: Wikileaks and the Battle Over the Soul of the Networked Fourth Estate (draft, 2011)

23 March 2011, dusan

A study of the events surrounding the Wikileaks document releases in 2010 provides a rich set of insights about the weaknesses and sources of resilience of the emerging networked fourth estate. It marks the emergence of a new model of watchdog function, one that is neither purely networked nor purely traditional, but is rather a mutualistic interaction between the two. It identifies the peculiar risks to, and sources of resilience of, the networked fourth estate in a multidimensional system of expression and restraint, and suggests the need to resolve a major potential vulnerability—the extralegal cooperation between the government and private infrastructure companies to restrict speech without being bound by the constraints of legality. Finally, it offers a richly detailed event study of the complexity of the emerging networked fourth estate, and the interaction, both constructive and destructive, between the surviving elements of the traditional model and the emerging elements of the new. It teaches us that the traditional, managerial-professional sources of responsibility in a free press function imperfectly under present market conditions, while the distributed models of mutual criticism and universal skeptical reading, so typical of the Net, are far from powerless to deliver effective criticism and self-correction where necessary. The future likely is, as the Guardian described its own experience with Wikileaks, “a new model of co-operation,” between surviving elements of the traditional, mass-mediated fourth estate, and its emerging networked models. The transition to this new model will likely be anything but smooth.

Working Paper of article forthcoming in the Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review.
8 February 2011 version.
66 pages

Update: PDF (current version)

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