Spilling Secrets: Social Privacy and Confidentiality In a Wikileaks World

by Mark Dykeman |

You keep secrets. Your company keeps secrets. Your government keeps secrets. Is this a bad thing?

If you want to keep a secret, steer clear of Wikileaks. (Look what’s been happening lately.)  But wait just a moment. What Wikileaks did was to make it overwhelmingly obvious that secrets are kept and that everything is not as it sometimes seems. And, to be fair, Wikileaks was the middle man: the whistle-blowers provided the raw data and Wikileaks publically funneled the data to other media organizations. These other media organizations had the audience sizes and reputations to help spread the news.

Any media watcher with critical thinking ability should not have been surprised, in general, that governments, organizations and individuals engage in unsavory behavior and dirty tricks. Humanity has a long history of doing that sort of thing. Yes, many people were shocked when Richard Nixon’s wrongdoings were exposed, but people didn’t have the same easy access to information in the early 1970s that we enjoy today. Secrets are harder to keep in the digital age when it’s relatively easy to make information visible to the world. At the same time, people probably don’t give the same weight to “official” sources as they once did.

Logo used by Wikileaks
Image via Wikipedia

Social media channels are really good at helping to unearth secrets, whether it’s movie spoilers or state secrets. Here’s something ridiculous, though: although it often seems like no one is paying attention to you, your company, or your really cool stuff, some tidbits of information are irresistibly shareable.

Want to make viral content? Expose your crimes and misdemeanors, but make it look like a leak!

Speaking of (Wiki)leaks, there are some people who say Julian Assange is a criminal for releasing classified documents; other people wonder why he didn’t beat out Mark Zuckerberg to claim the title of Person of the Year. Maybe 2011 will be Assange’s turn.

But in the end, it all comes back to the secrets. Put in a different context, are companies and individuals entitled to confidential conversations or personal privacy?

In many parts of the world, confidentiality and privacy are rights, if not privileges, that are enforceable by law.

On the other hand, if privacy and confidentiality are being used to hide questionable activities, we’ll likely cry foul. If we suffer as a result of these activities, we’ll decry the secrecy. If we are on the “inside”, we probably wrap ourselves in secrecy the way Linus van Pelt clutches his blanket for dear life.

Sometimes we think that “temporary” secrecy is OK, especially when a company puts out “embargoed” press release information that specifies the date, time and circumstances when information can be announced to the general public. We do this to maintain competitive advantage or, on other occasions, to protect privacy. Sometimes it’s a matter of national security – we don’t want to let the enemy know when the troops are landing, after all.

It’s either about creating advantage or avoiding pain. Or both.

I don’t have any answers to the questions of privacy, confidentiality and secrets in general, save for the Golden Rule. As a private citizen, I (literally) enjoy personal privacy. On the other hand, I don’t like being lied to, even if the lie is a technicality created by withholding information.

The existence of secrets has made Wikileaks possible. There are powerful motivating factors that entice people to keep secrets.

If you want to avoid getting the Wikileaks rush, maybe you shouldn’t be keeping secrets. Or else you’d better be prepared to live with the results.

Enhanced by Zemanta


About the Author

Mark Dykeman

Mark Dykeman is the founder and main brain of Thoughtwrestling, a blog devoted to helping you with creativity, creative thinking, idea generation techniques, problem solving and getting things done. He is also the award-winning blogger behind Broadcasting Brain. For more great ideas, follow Mark on Twitter at @markdykeman.