Wikileaks as an ‘exploit’ against ‘protocollary power’

The analysis below refers to the following book analyzing the logic of Protocollary Power in networks (i.e. the power of invisible architectures):

* The Exploit: A Theory of Networks. Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007

Excerpted from Alison Powell:

“Galloway and Thackeray argue that the network is merely a condition of possibility for the operation of protocol, which can direct control around the network. Using the exploit (if I understand this correctly) is the way of disrupting the management system that is associated with the network. Discovering holes in existing networks can thus be a way of creating change. This is one thing that WikiLeaks has effectively done; by identifying the logic of control underlying both secrets and their media representations. The exploit in this case occurs on several levels at once. First, it facilitates the power of the swarm by hosting leaked information. Second, it takes over the mass media by slowly and dramatically leaking information which is subject to editorial control both by WikiLeaks itself and by mass media journalists. The mass media is still fulfilling its function, but its logic of control has been undermined – perhaps this is something like the way a zombie computer is mobilized by a botnet – or an organism that has suffered a neurological virus (gesturing at my previous attempt to frame WikiLeaks as a parasite).

The WikiLeaks’ “exploit” is thus more effective than it would be were it less well integrated with the mass media’s networked forms of power. Indeed, WikiLeaks is not itself rhizomatic. It is organized, and with a carefully planned interventionist strategy. It has a figurehead who has acted as a focal point for the media while the real work of undermining state control of information carries on. With the complicity of newsrooms, WikiLeaks intervenes in the power structures behind international news.

The exploit, if this is what it is, disrupts the existing logic of networked control and allows the swarm to intervene in the protocols underpinning news production. This is precisely why it has been so effective. It is a hack – in the non-technical sense. It uses the rules of journalism to break journalism.

As I’ve been thinking about this more, I am more taken by how the exploit, or hack, (yes, the noise in the system) has disrupted several things in several different ways. It’s disrupted the pretense of secrecy around government information. It’s exploited the same network of influence that is normally responsible for filtering government scandals and transforming them into headlines. And the DDoS attacks by Anonymous, whether pointless or amplificatory or dramatic also exploited protocol systems established to govern the web. So there is an exploit within the technical governance level as well as an exploit within the media system. Of course, WikiLeaks’ own resilience through its web presence is also the result of an exploitation of the network, and of the reproducibility of digital content.”

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