The Cowardice of Intermediation

Examining my reaction to the corporate censorship and financial strangulation of Wikileaks, I am struck now by the unconsciousness of my ideas about how corporations and other large institutions should communicate. As I said in fairly impromptu remarks:

One thing I want to point out is that Mastercard and Visa, who basically blocked people like you and me from donating money to support Wikileaks, and Amazon who kicked Wikileaks off [their service], none of them have issued even a press release. I contacted them and Mastercard had some lame thing like “well, there’s quotes in news articles”. No, it’s the modern age – it’s the internet – you’re supposed to talk to the people and tell them directly. You can’t even have a press release explaining what you did and why?

(I see now that there is at least one blog post by Amazon about its decision to drop Wikileaks. That post is not very convincing, but at least it’s there. On the other hand, Bank of America has now joined the blockade of Wikileaks, again through a quote shared with some newspapers, but not posted on the web.)

I believe these ideas are widely shared – note, for example, the laughter accompanying my mention of “quotes in news articles”. At some point we just unconsciously absorbed the new ethos – that since intermediation by traditional news organizations is not necessary, it is suspect. A press release, a corporate form of obfuscation and media manipulation if there ever was one, is still held to be better than no publicly shared statement at all. Having only “quotes in news articles” means you talked to those who you defined as “the press”. You hid behind the corporate press as intermediaries rather than giving us a good chunk of text to critique directly.

It is this perception of hiding that is so galling. We expect you, power, to speak with us, The People Formerly Known as the Audience, and barring that, at least to speak to us. Choosing to speak only to or with the traditional news organizations is perceived as appalling cowardice. And in this case, with good reason – the actions of these corporate giants are considered illegitimate by many people. The last thing these organizations want is a wide-ranging and in-depth discussion of the problems of unaccountable corporate power and, in particular, the tri-opoly of internet payment mechanisms.

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