What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

Summary: WikiLeaks' impact on foreign policy is considerable, even as we struggle to fully understand the magnitude of their latest disclosures. However, for our students, the questions of ethics and digital citizenship will need to be addressed right now.

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TOPICS: Government, Google
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Depending on who you ask, WikiLeaks is either the best thing to happen to journalism and the First Amendment since Woodward and Bernstein or a terrorist organization bent on starting World War III. Well, OK, we all know that WWIII isn't terribly likely, but there are some particularly strong feelings about WikiLeaks and their latest round of disclosures no matter where you go in the world.

So what does this mean to the students who we are teaching to be good digital citizens, critical thinkers, and sharp consumers of information? What does it mean for the students who have finally realized that they shouldn't post videos of that monster bong hit on YouTube when an organization posts documents that could arguably have major impacts on US foreign relations and military operations? And what does it mean when it takes an organization like WikiLeaks to force some transparency in our government?

So many teachers don't let their students use Wikipedia or even Google for in-class research. All too often, we send the message that the Internet is unreliable and filled with garbage when a savvy student can unlock incredible amounts of information online. Where does the information posted by WikiLeaks fall? Official government reactions certainly suggest a pretty high degree of credibility. Launching criminal probes and calling WikiLeaks a terrorist organization does not make the American public think that the thousands of documents they've posted are anything but real.

Is WikiLeaks then, a credible news source? Perhaps more importantly, how credible is our government in what it chooses to share around our military and foreign policy efforts?

As ZDNet's David Gewirtz points out,

Wikileaks hasn’t redacted the information about confidential informants, and it’s likely that these informants — in large numbers — will be executed by their factions over the coming weeks and months. That’s bad enough. But...here is where the Wikileaks risk is extreme. Manning [the military informant who leaked the cables to WikiLeaks] and Assange [WikiLeaks founder and frontman] “outed” confidential negotiations (and, yes, pressure) about nuclear defense issues. They “outed” defensive tactics America was taking against cyberwarfare advances by certain other nations. They “outed” the procedures we’re going through to find “homes” for Guantanamo prisoners. They “outed” discussions about protecting Americans from terrorists.

Where does that leave our students who both need to understand modern politics and must carry on responsible use of the vast resources of the Internet?

There are far more questions here than answers. However, make no mistake: WikiLeaks' latest disclosures affect our students and alter their view of the world, the US government, and the Internet. It's up to us as educators to help them navigate some very murky waters and some largely uncharted territory in US history.

Topics: Government, Google

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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47 comments
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  • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

    what wikileaks has done is expose that fact that the spies are internal, not always external and there are very very limited barriers to the internal leaks. The US gov't must explain why this happened and fix the leak like any good plumber would. I think students should be allowed to use info such as this for study and evaluation...and learn what is real, false or rumour...then when they leave school maybe they are just a but more street smart.
    Bradish@...
    • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

      @Bradish@...
      Frankly, the leaks show what our country really is - a once super power on the decline, which will do anything, legal or illegal. For the most part, we as U.S. citizens, see our government thru rose colored glasses. Sorry, our government doesn't want to admit that their past behaviors have pissed off, ruined or sublimated other governments. We aint the good guys our government wants us to believe, nor are we the bad guys, or much different from the countries struggling to become the current dominate power. The Islamic extreenist scare me, but what can we expect after our government has done in the past.
      redcaboosejr@...
      • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

        @redcaboosejr@...
        You mean a country that will do almost everything our enemies are capable of. Our government has no problem admitting their past behaviors have pissed off, ruined or sublimated other governments.

        That's just living in the real world, welcome to it.
        brichter
    • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

      @Bradish@...

      Wikileaks didn't expose the fact that spies are internal, that's been common knowledge for millennia. It's happened to every country since man started forming societies that compete with each other, and will continue until we're dead and gone.
      brichter
    • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

      @Bradish@... <br>Your right, let the students know the truth and learn from it, because someday some of them will be part of the US gov't. <a href="http://www.digitalproductsavenue.com">ebooks with resale rights</a> | <a href="http://www.coppervalleycustomhomes.com">custom home builders</a> | <a href="http://designer-business-cards.com">designer business cards</a>
      eschwartzk
  • We are not always the good guys.

    While not every disclosure by Wikileaks may be in Western interests - and I want to see the West prosper - I believe they're performing an essential role. Politics and power are nasty business' and no matter the temporary pain these leaks are causing they serve a higher purpose and that is to expose some of the "back-room deals" that are normally hidden from a population at large. Corruption is the issue, I sure as hell don't want to live in China but I don't think my governments actions are all roses either. The public interest is served by reporting candidly on what has actually taken place. Wikileaks has pulled back a layer of double-speak and should be thanked for doing so. I trust that a healthy democracy can only grow stronger with the light of truth.
    BP314
    • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

      @BP314
      they are performing an essential role? Their published information will get more than 1 person directly killed. That is essential to you?
      tiderulz
      • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

        @tiderulz ha - drink some more cool-aid... information from wikileaks getting someone killed. Get that from a Hilary news snippet yesterday and just accepted its true?
        Bodazapha
      • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

        @Bodazapha
        some of us actually work in areas where we see information like that. I saw information on a weekly basis that could get someone injured or killed if i let it out. Its called responsibility. They could easily mark out some areas that identify people and get their point across.
        tiderulz
      • Personally, I don't know that it will or not

        @tiderulz, as I have not read the material leaked, but I also don't repeat things unless I can point to a particular piece and say, yep that is active intelligence and it puts these people in harms way now. I don't know that, it is possible, but you won't hear me take that as a fact.

        What this does show the American people, and puts egg on the face of the DOD is that personnel have access to things that are likely not pertinent to performing their job, and that sensitive data is not prevented from being download to physical media, nor was their any detection software in place to notify someone with authority of the breach.

        If one person dies because of the leak, that is one too many, but at the same time, it displays a major weakness in the United States Cyber Security.
        Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
      • How will it not lead to deaths?

        Giving the names of confidential informants won't make the people they're informing on very happy at all.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • Bodazapha, then they should they do away with the

        witness protection plan? we all know that these people lives arent in any danger, just like the names of informants in these documents aren't in any danger. the WPP is just a big scam, just another un-needed government dept.
        Ron Bergundy
      • So smartboy, give us an example

        @tiderulz
        The docs are public now, so it will be easy to point to an example.
        You don't have any? Is what I thought...
        theo_durcan
    • Essential role?

      @BP314
      Leaking these files will make nuclear proliferation more likely, will increase the danger of (at least) regional nuclear war, will lead to the deaths of pro-American informants, will make frank diplomatic exchanges less likely, and will inflame anti-American sentiment around the world. All of this was done in clear violation of federal laws and with premeditation. I strongly disagree that WikiLeaks should be thanked for this vicious act.
      davidthomas@...
      • RE: What do we tell our students about WikiLeaks?

        @davidthomas@... and will inflame anti-American sentiment around the world... Like invading Iraq? Wikileaks = war apparently
        Bodazapha
      • Some people just don't understand

        Leaking confidential information, especially when it will lead to the deaths of our allies, is not something that should be cheered. Also, how many people will step forward when their confidential nature is in question?
        Michael Alan Goff
      • Bodazapha, just how stupid are you?

        nothing in those documents was illegal, where they? They were confidential discussions about people and place needed for people to do business around the world?

        Tell me, is it illegal for a diplomat to state to the president that "I believe Putin was lying to us about how many nukes he has stationed in country X because he kept being stopped from answering"?
        Is it illegal for a diplomat to tell the president "I really feel that so-and-so is a puppet, that his war-mongering general is really calling the shots, but better to not spook the guy into killing his people by letting them know we're on to them"?
        No it's not. Its confidential just like the info you keep hidden, the same way a business keeps certain info hidden. It's not illegal to do so.

        Yet you think we should just laugh this all off, that nutjobs like the leaders of north korea should know our thoughts on his recent attack on south korea? what if the US and South korea decided its better to do nothing at the moment because we're getting others on-board, would info like that just bolster north korea into launching a larger attack, as he now knows we won't do anything about it or that he has to strike now before anyone else backs up south korea?

        Your an idiot if you think that leaking onfidentail information on things like this is good.
        Ron Bergundy
      • Cyberspammer, you're actually making sense

        I can't argue with you reasoning, because for once (teeth clenched) I agree with you.
        There is nothing wrong, immoral, or even illegal in having honest assesments about someone or some country, that should remain confidential and clasified.
        John Zern
      • you forgot the heating of the planet

        @davidthomas@...
        among other issues caused by the leaks...
        theo_durcan
    • You can tell yourself BS all you want if it helps you

      sleep at night?
      so what your actually saying to all of us here is that things like the witness protection program is all a scam? That we shouldn't waste any money on that because we all know, by your own words is that these informants lives aren't in any danger, that those they are informing on will just shrug their shoulders and say "darn, i'm so red-faced! i can't believe it was akmed all this time! ha ha ha!"?
      Ron Bergundy