I was born a year after the 9/11 attack, and a year before the Iraq War began. I imagine that, at that time, conscientious adults would never have worked out what modern geopolitics would become: a constant state of surveillance and terror in Third World countries. When I was two, Facebook was launched — I also imagine that adults at the time had no idea that this tool would destroy modern interpersonal relationships, alter electoral processes and result in the expansion of the far right around the world. But, when I was four, the greatest free press tool of the Twenty-First century — hence, a tool that went against the war on terror, technological oligopolies, and surveillance capitalism — was launched: WikiLeaks had been born.
It is hard to understand a story when you start at the end. In my case, I remember parts of the Brazilian news reporting some data leaks and other diplomatic crises, but I had no idea what was really going on. Now, as an adult — perhaps still semi-conscious — I understand the importance of tools like WikiLeaks for my generation and the ones to come.
People my age did not have a choice when it came to living in the world of technology. Note that talking about technology does not necessarily mean talking about the internet, nor does it mean accessing it. For example, Bahia, where I am proud to have been born, is one of the poorest states in the country, with almost half of its total population lying under the poverty line. Not only that: 60% of its people only have access to the internet through cellphones. Even with poverty, the lack of access to the internet and to communication and due to the concentration of press oligopolies in the state and its capital, surveillance capitalism — disguised as technology — has managed to permeate our society. Last month, the Brazilian Intercept website revealed that Governor Rui Costa (PT) decided to increase the facial recognition system in the state.
This measure will most likely be relatively ‘light’ in the dystopian future that awaits us. If the Bahia population does not have the means to understand the flaws in the facial recognition system — such as the automation of racism — there is no way to criticize its performance. The report would never have been written without the work of Intercept, an independent media, due to the concentration of media in the state. All the biggest and most important vehicles in Bahia belong to wealthy families, some linked to politicians. That is when WikiLeaks enters the scene.
WikiLeaks acts as a combat tool for the press. The organization does not choose targets or enemies, it receives information and reports it in full, giving freedom for the public and the media to decide their opinions on the materials made available. The actions of independent vehicles, such as this magazine or Intercept, for example, are extremely important, but they do not have global impact. At the end of the day, nobody changes the world alone, right?
My generation wants, in a way, quick changes. Not because we are impatient, but because we have been handed so many problems from previous generations to solve. One is the expected environmental collapse of an uncertain, but existing future—created, in part, by the elite’s and first-world countries’ denial of the impact of polluting technologies such as oil, coal, or plastic. That affects our decisions. A survey carried out this year showed that almost half of Brazil’s youth are reluctant to have children in the face of the possibility of a climate catastrophe. While there are still ‘conscious’ adults who deny climate change, the possibility of having a future has been ripped from my generation — and that future does not even exist in our thoughts.
Platforms like WikiLeaks and even individual activists do us some justice. With information, files, and documents published to the full, without selections or partiality, the opportunity is created for young people not to fall into short stories created by the elites or by business oligopolies called ‘press’. We can finally believe in what really exists—and however beautiful reality may not be, it will no longer be fabricated.
Speaking about climate change, WikiLeaks revealed, by exposing thousands of diplomatic cables from the United States, that China has not measured data on the most dangerous types of air pollution because it fears political consequences. Years earlier, the organization had also exposed that BP, a British multinational oil and natural gas company, had been hiding an oil spill in Azerbaijan for months. Other leaked cables showed that Azerbaijan’s then-president accused BP of stealing oil from his country and of using “moderate blackmail” to secure the rights to develop vast gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region.
Today, October 4, 2021, WikiLeaks turns fifteen. Probably, not even the founders of the organization had imagined the dystopian future, now present, that awaited humanity, but they continued to fight. The organization does not have as much impact as before, mainly because information leaks have become more common, but also because of the immoral arrest of one of the platform’s co-founders, Julian Assange. The journalist is currently in a maximum security prison in the United Kingdom, with the possibility of being extradited to the United States. Even with that change, it does not mean my generation (which might be yours too) is reviving the sentiment behind WikiLeaks.