Document-Sourced Journalism as a Rent-Seeking Industry

NOTE: This unfinished post has been sitting in my draft box for about two months. With each passing day there are diminished motivations to complete it. So I am just going to hit the publish button.

Three years ago I wrote this little piece that touched on the extant difficulties of successfully replicating a distributed wikileaks model of document-sourced journalism. The crux of the problem: social media by and large fails as an editorial platform for document-sourced journalism. To be more specific, editorial capacity does not spontaneously emerge from social media as a solution to a type of collective action problem for wide-scale information/knowledge dissemination of document dumps. Wikileaks, simply as a technological platform for anonymous distribution of leaked documents, does not produce information/knowledge shocks. To achieve the latter requires “wikileaks” to also function along the lines of a traditional journalistic organization. That is, it must provide editorial context, expertise and discretion1.

But this transition of Wikileaks from technology platform to journalistic organization is what turns it into a “firm.”2 Now what I mean by this is further elucidated in the footnote below. But “Wikileaks as a firm” introduces an attendant issue of “geopolitical differentiation.” And it is the problem of geopolitical differentiation that prompted me to originally comment on the non-triviality of replicating a wikileaks model.

I bring this all up because the recent leaked announcement of a Glenn Greenwald,Jeremy Scahill Laura Poitras journalistic media venture financed by Pierre Omidyar looks to me to be the first actual legit successor to wikileaks. However, this announcement has not been greeted by universal acclaim in the radical community. Perhaps the general nub of this dissent is captured by this Arthur Silber rant. Interestingly, I find the radical critique to mirror the statist one. The crux of each is a challenge to the editorial discretion of the journalist in question. The statist claims too much is being leaked(usually attended by gobbledygook about how self-appointed editorial discretion is circumscribing the legitimate actions of democratic collective action) while the radical denounces too little has been divulged(accompanied by accusations that self-appointed editorial discretion confers a type of power that turns the dragon slayer into the dragon).

But there is a straight-forward rejoinder to the radical bemoaning the lack of an objective standard regarding what is published and the pace at which it is published. Namely, the leaker, Snowden(and before him, Manning), did not leak to a technology platform or to a social network, but rather to an entity the leaker self-calculated would provide maximum information shock value(“news”). Any radical ire on this matter should be directed at the leaker because it was the leaker who made the risk-reward calculation that the risk was only worth it if the reward entailed wide-scale publicity of the information being leaked. Information shock value requires editorial discretion on the part of the journalist(or journalistic entity). And as elaborated in the appending footnote, this editorial discretion entails a type of firm organization pattern. Sans this information shock value–which is what the Firm is meant to produce–the Firm offers little incentive to the leaker to leak(the leaker is incentivized by information shock) and without the participation of the leaker, the Document-sourced journalistic firm is a null entity.

Frankly, the radical disputes on this matter illustrate an object lesson why you have firms. A generic/informal social graph3 not oriented around a specific objective with no dispute resolution implementation in place suffers from the bargaining costs of haggling(or, in this case, bickering) horizontal trading partners(connected nodes). Now this is not to say that all social organization stratifies around a firm or that a generic social graph cannot reproduce the same results as a firm, but in a certain class of cases, a firm will beat an informal graph and beat it badly. Document-sourced journalism is likely one of those cases. A leaker, working against a significant risk calculation, is likely not going to leak to a platform or a network that poses uncertainty with regards to editorial discretion. An informal social graph characterized by heterogeneous opinion regarding editorial discretion is not reliable(particularly from the point of view of the leaker).

1The original wilikleaks model treated the dissemination of information shocks(‘news’) from its document repository as a type of social media collective action problem. However, social media as a network connected graph(more often than not) organizes around communicating moral judgements than coordinating expert division of labor (In other words, better at opinion journalism than investigative journalism). Think of a “blog roll” or “twitter friends.” A typical blog roll does not consist of an assortment of cryptographic experts, language experts, cultural experts, policy and government department experts, etc… the type of graph relationships that could facilitate spontaneous editorial contextualizing of an arbitrary document D if node i in the given social graph decided to go document browsing.

Instead, each node in a social media graph, with regards to document browsing, roughly encounters the same “rational ignorance” problem inherit in the “voting problem.” Now if you know beforehand that it is “worthwhile” to spend resources examining a given document D, because it exposes important information, then you would do it. But if you don’t know beforehand, you probably won’t. The resources you expend to research if the document is indeed newsworthy, or the resources required on your part to contextualize a given document’s particular newsworthiness(which likely requires cross-discipline expertise), exceeds the benefit you can expect from your own considerable effort. Your “social graph” isn’t helping you out any more than your traditional circle of friends helps you out with respect to the traditional voting problem.

Now, if editorial context provides advance knowledge, then the problem outlined above perhaps goes away. In much the same way that the “voting problem” can go away in a given instance if a newspaper editorial exposes that in a race between candidate A & B, candidate A, say, turns out to be a Nazi sympathizer(rational ignorance potentially is mitigated by the strength of the information shock). If editorial context for a document is provided, then a social graph or network can form for the dissemination of the document as an information shock.

The above highlights the distinctions between a social graph and a “firm.” A Firm can certainly be cast as a type of connected graph, so it is a special type of social graph. However, a firm’s “connectedness” is oriented around the execution of a specific objective(or set of objectives), and a firm implements a dispute resolution pattern for the connected nodes to facilitate execution of said objective. Hence, a Firm can be thought of as a DRO subclass of a social graph.

Wikileaks, in its second iteration, transitioned from a technology platform to a firm. That is, the aforementioned collective action failures of social media to provide editorial context for leaked documents would be remedied by Wikileaks itself acting as editor. The role of an editor is to provide context and expertise for published news and to exercise discretion in regards to what is published and the time-frame that it is published in. This introduces all the classic hallmarks of a DRO type.



2 Note: A Firm does not necessarily mean “corporation.” A corporate legal entity is a subclass of a Firm



3Note: A generic/informal social graph does not necessarily mean peer-to-peer(P2P). Fundamentally, P2P is a type of protocol, in particular, a “discovery protocol” that offers an alternative to the more traditional client-server model. However, for some reason, quite a bit of “moral evangelizing” is attached to it because supposedly it is more “hierarchically flat.” But this is a bit of a misnomer.

Example: Bitcoin Transactional Verification(“mining”) operates via a P2P discovery protocol, but bitcoin mining nonetheless is dominated by firms. A typical “blog ring” operates over the standard client-server model but the social graph of the blog-ring itself may be hierarchically flat.

A P2P discovery protocol operates over a scale-free network exhibiting a power law topology(“the internet”). Power laws in internet topology are about as scientifically reliable as observing gravity to be an attractive force. “Six degree of separation” and the “80-20 rule” are cornerstones of what we might term “the small network.” The small network is neither horizontally flat nor decentralized. The “small” refers to the distance or hops between any two arbitrary nodes.

A good example of a hierarchically flat, decentralized document-exchange network is the library system from, say, two centuries ago. Flat, decentralized networks are generally non-interoperable with one another by default. So a document exchange between a node i in network A and a node j in network B likely entails significant transaction costs. Hence, cross-network document exchange is costly and limited to the few. Not exactly egalitarian…
(Note: the origins of the portable document format originated from trying to address the problem of document exchange on disparate hardware/software platforms back in the late 1980s).

P2P aside, the actual point being made is that the abstraction of a social graph is generally not concerned with the underlying application protocol, although an internet topology characterizes the network where the social graph lives(for the most part). The terms “generic and informal” refers to the binding relationship between nodes.

The State is its Own Agency

That the NSA has now commenced with overt pressure campaigns to countermand any legislative effort to curtail its vast surveillance enterprise cements an obvious liberal dilemma regarding the agency of the State. Make no mistake, totalitarian spying exemplifies an agency whose ends are in competition with the ends of its own citizens. This is a fatal violation of the liberal paradigm out in the open, staring you right in the face.

The germane question which moves to the fore of consideration hence pertains to the extent of government surveillance. Is it indeed totalitarian? If we were to constrain the scope of consideration strictly to the NSA itself, then the answer would probably be no. It’s modus operandi does not follow the traditional taxonomy of the textbook totalitarian spymaster. However, thanks to the documentation leaked by Edward Snowden, what we have now is confirmation of the cypherpunk dystopian model, which in a real sense, is much worse, for it portends a sustainable template of planetary social control. The NSA in and of itself is one thing. However, in the larger context of its coerced “strategic partnerships” with the top US internet & software companies–as means to facilitate/execute the data collection requirements–what we end up with is quite another: the equivalent of a libcap library on every one of your network devices persistently cataloging your “matrix” in the well-connected social graph, built and maintained under the “legal auspices” of a three-hop dragnet.

In light of the Snowden revelations, the NSA has embarked on the aforementioned pressure and information campaign to countermand the PR damage. Just yesterday, the NSA released two documents that purport to dispel the notion of it being an agency of totalitarian collection. Having just read them , I can say that the 1.6% statistic of “touched traffic” and 0.025% statistic of “reviewed traffic”, on a daily basis, are highly misleading. The first hoodwink is to point out that out of the exabyte daily traffic volume, roughly 60%-70% is ip video traffic1, which shrinks our “basketball court” down to the size of a racquetball court. The second hoodwink is to infer the sampling follows a pattern of independent random trials–in the classic stats model, proving or disproving a hypothesis drawn from such a random sample–instead of what it actually is: the accumulation of a graph-based document store enabling a traversable, retrospective query system. The whole thing is just plain subterfuge.

By now, it should be apparent that I consider the cypherpunks to be the most relevant social scientists of our day. In no small part because they are at the forefront of the battle-lines of 21st century political economy. Assange, for one, has been singularly confirmed on a number of points. In particular, the US reaction of “Insider Threat” has to count as spectacular confirmation of his thesis of “conspiracy and networks.” The kernel of differentiated political and economic jurisdiction that always lurked beneath the rationale of wikileaks now seems obvious in light of what is required for secure and autonomous cloud computing platforms going forward2. Assange’s contention that legal and regulatory entities were engaging in data-laundering–that is, ex post manufacturing legal reconstructions of “evidence” gathered from the NSA dragnet spying enterprise–has since been confirmed by Reuters with respect to two agencies: the DEA and the IRS.

In contrast, the “liberal” political and academic establishment are dinosaurs. No better example of this than this piece at “Bleeding Heart Libertarians,” The United States is not a Police State. The entire piece is a confirmation of my (quite prescient, as it turns out) old post, Free Market Fairness: A bridge to nowhere. Fernando Teson’s entire argument boils down to the position that truth should never stand in the way of mainstream recognition. Of course, as I pointed out in that earlier post, the “respectable libertarian formulation,” in the form of the chicago school, had held sway for thirty years in the domain of finance and “regulatory reform” leading to nothing but banking oligarchy and a permanent severance of political freedom from capitalism. As I pointed out at the end, all it would take would be a minority dissident faction to blow that entire thesis to smithereens and force the “bleeding hearts” to side with what everyone and their brother–outside of polite academic company–knew to be tyranny and oppression. I’m not surprised “Edward Snowden” doesn’t appear in any post on that site, outside one inclusion in an obscure link.

Frankly, the boogeyman of North Korea is tiresome as the singleton measuring stick of totalitarianism. For starters, the inquisitive person might ask just how long North Korea would last if not for China and the US directly and indirectly propping it up(which should trigger a deeper discussion of the taxonomy to begin with when considering States that prop up even worse monsters). However, the better question might be why the persistent singleton casting of 21st century totalitarianism in the mold of mid-20th century soviet model when that model–in terms of having any sphere of international influence–died out two decades ago?

In the recent book, “Cypherpunks: Freedom & The Future Of The Internet,” Andy Muller-Maguhn specifically outlines the stated intent of our 21st century spooks: the use of secrecy as a means to gain control of social processes. This presents a countervailing agency problem more along the lines of a “squishy totalitarianism,” but this is more than sufficient to eviscerate the liberal paradigm. In fact, it acquires a particular sinister aura because it appears quite apparent that most are quite comfortable persisting the liberal mythology within its confines. The industries of “social justice” and “the invisible hand of market social coordination” will continue to spit out oblivious drivel because after all, they are “industries.”

As I have noted on previous occasions, the planned order or surveillance introduces a potentially glaring incentive-incompatibility agency problem into market exchange. One that makes mincemeat of any position that uses the existence of markets as an immediate counterfactual to any claim of systems of social control. If we cast “spontaneous order” as a type of “social graph” and then analytically run it against the “planned order of surveillance” that exists to anatomize it, we obtain a “second-order dynamic” between the social graph and its surveillance that illuminates the distinction between laissez-faire and capitalism in a far greater clarity than the dinosaur methods of 20th century classical liberalism still mired in the roots of the socialist calculation debates.

Frankly, to avoid serious methodological error, one should start from the assumption of “the State as its own Agency.” Everything else flows from there…

1 As I pointed out in this old post, Technology is not Freedom, ip video has its own extensive surveillance regime.

2 Ideological preferences aside, the cloud, in any rent-seeking context, is where the internet goes because it is simply a much more efficient computing platform.

From WikiLeaks: How the Drug War Underlies The Firm

A Public Choice definition of “The Firm” is the agency that arises from the “incentive-incompatibility problem” of collective choice. This agency, however, is also an organ of political economy. The political economic construct of The Firm is what allows us to tie it to the classical concept of libertarian class theory(note: it is a mistake to try to relate the standard realm of public choice to the old French Laissez Faire model of political economy. To make this relation, you must more or less discard “methodological individualism” from the model of State actors. Hence, most, if not all, traditional public choice scholars will reject “The Firm” outright).

The positive model of “The Firm” allows us to make predictions. For one, the drug war will never peacefully end because the discretionary authority the drug war legitimizes is a core foundational component of The Firm. At best, any legalization efforts will simply result in a FDA, Bristol Myers Squibb, DEA triumvirate. In a real sense, the latter may actually provide the means for greater social control than outright illegality.

If the thing that “The Firm” maximizes is discretionary power or authority, then perhaps “The Matrix” is a better understood cultural descriptor than “The Firm.” However, the use of the term, “The Firm,” is illuminating because it reminds us that the agency in question is at its core a politically economic one. The Firm is the (protectionist) coordinated arena where the “competition” of capitalism takes place. It is the “market setter.”

As with “The Matrix,” it may be the case that the only way to fully understand “The Firm” is to see it for yourself. So below, I have posted a link from the recent WikiLeaks file dump. This is actually a publicly available document and not a secret one. But it is captured from the inner correspondence of the global intelligence firm, Stratfor.

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

The introduction says it all: engineering an efficient international enforcement paradigm of anti-money laundering measures that starts with terrorism and drugs but under a “one-size-fits-all” vein can be effortlessly extended to any unauthorized monetary exchange. The table of contents provides the staggering breadth and scope of The Firm’s coordination.

To those that say “there is no firm,” I say positive science is useless if we do not believe what we see with our own eyes. To those who say “if you don’t like it, leave,” I say it is clear that there is no escaping the jurisdiction of The Firm.

Julian Assange’s Response

Julian Assange responds to the criticism of “Wkileaks paywall” and other matters via TwitLonger.

Assange promotes “movement solidarity” while cautioning against the perils of “anonymous platforms” that are prone to compromise and infiltration by police authorities. There is an implicit emphasis on the requirement of “media” and “reputation” in the role of “crypto-anarchism” serving as an effective reform mechanism.

Assange’s explicit emphasis on “movement solidarity” is no doubt true. But all movements suffer from an irrevocable collective action problem. In this sense, there needs to be more than one. But political entrepreneurs in crypto-anarchism run up against an equally vexing collective action problem: the problem of revolution.

WikiLeaks Paywall?

A javascript donation widget that has been inserted into Wikileaks documentation file pages has created a bit of a stir. First, the technicalities. It is an IFrame widget that relies on javascript to create a DOM modal window that features a YouTube “Campaign Video.” Below the video are buttons for donation, facebook share and Twitter tweet. Clicking on any of the buttons will write to a browser cookie that will(although not instantaneously) de-activate the overlay on a timeout. Of course, the client-side javascript “protection scheme” can easily be bypassed by disabling javascript in the browser(which is what I did on the “internet blackout day” because all the blackout sites relied on simple client-side protection schemes).

My criticism of the scheme is that it is bad UI code. The implementation is not a paywall but the code is written in a way that assumes the payment option. The de-activation works on a timeout which is consistent with the time it would take to complete a payment transaction in a form submission. By the time you complete a transaction, the overlay will be “de-activated” vis a vis the cookie query. However, if you select the “share options,” the overlay doesn’t destroy right away which makes it appear you are being fucked with. Very cheesy…

However, the video provides a fine wine with your cheese. It is pure libertarian class analysis. Voting is meaningless. Ostensible political reformers of the system will be captured and betray their claims. The only worthwhile collective action is alternative mechanisms. Right on, brother…

The criticism of Assange turning Wikileaks into a one-man show is a bit hollow. It is indeed a disappointment that there has not been a proliferation of WikiLeaks-like organizations. Document-sourced journalism has stalled. But there are reasons for this–reasons that I have discussed in previous posts. For one, not too many people ar eager to meet Assange’s fate of being an Enemy of the State. Unfortunately, anonymous platform crowd-sourcing has proven to be neither an attractor of leaks nor a disseminator of leaks into the public consciousness. No one who risks their liberty and life by leaking damning information is going to submit to an anonymous platform that keeps the identity of the entity behind it a secret. And crowd-sourcing document dumps has proven hitherto not to be a particularly fruitful model.

In short, “crypto-anarchism” has to play a “media game.” And it requires a degree of expertise and reputation to bring the secrets to light. It requires a type of political entrepreneurship. Julian Assange figured that out. His reward for being a revolutionary is not only the designation of “Enemy of the State,” for which he pays a heavy price, but to be also subjected to a barrage of whiny moral foundations of revolutionary politics.

The United States Military Declares Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Enemies of the State

When the military of the country you live in declares an organization like Wikileaks an Enemy of the State, which in this case means military personnel who make contact with the organization risk a capital offense, then the country you live in is just one step away from a full blown authoritarian government. Of course, the final step is when the “regulation” is extended to civilians.

Remember Julian Assange is one of us(radical libertarian). At this point anyone who is not officially an “enemy of the State” is just a lip flapper. Julian Assange is a hero. PERIOD….

Will the US Government Attempt to Extradite Julian Assange?

What’s the most libertarian-oriented network that broadcasts in the United States today? The answer is Russia Today. But the Russian regime is hardly any exemplar of libertarianism. Quite the opposite, actually. Indeed, the brute characteristics of the Russian regime has led some conservative commentators to denounce RT as an insidious propaganda tool against the US. But the propaganda directed against the US is actually true.

No doubt, if we had MSNBC-Russia or Fox-Russia, specifically broadcasting to a Russian audience, those network subsidiaries would be very libertarian-oriented. They would be continuously informing the Russian public about the hypocrisy and crimes of the Russian regime. Russian nationalists and patriots would accuse those networks as being agents of seditious propaganda. But the propaganda would be true, nonetheless.

But, of course, we know that MSNBC and Fox are slavish legitimizers of their own regimes. Likewise, we know RT is not in the business of de-legitimizing Putin.

So what we have is an example of hacking plutocracy. And we know it is hackable because the plutocrats are busy trying to hack it themselves. This political “hackability” of plutocracy is really the strategic basis of the whole document-sourced journalism concept. I discussed this dynamic in a whole series posts back in 2010. The intent of Julian Assange(who, of course, I don’t know personally, so I can only divine intent from his writings, statements, and actions) was to use document-source journalism as a means to put governments in a type of liberal political competition(Assange most definitely is a liberal in the philosophic sense). But any “liberal outcome” would be a consequence of a political dynamic and not a legal one. As I wrote in my old post, The Revolutionary as Entrepreneur :

The political hack is not so much cherry-picking laws from jurisdictions to create some sort of international tapestry of legal protection outside the jurisdiction of any one State, but rather more of a hack of playing competing legal jurisdictions off one another to protect itself from ex post legal interpretations or legal changes for prosecution by any one jurisdiction. This makes it more of a political hack than a legal hack.

Certainly, Assanges’s current appeal to Ecuador for political asylum is an example of this. Ecuador itself is hardly a liberal(legally speaking) paradigm.

But we do have to express some disappointment that “document-sourced journalism” has seemingly been stalled. Our friends at CNN are only glad to give us a synopsis why: See yourself as the next Assange? Good luck. I would offer up my own summary that in part dovetails with the CNN one.

(i) the US and The Western Global Financial System will cut off any legal avenue for the necessary financial means to support any viable document-sourced journalism operation

(ii) As a result of (i), the contextual expertise needed to sift through the (often massive) leaked documents largely can only be found with vertically integrated corporate structures subject to same problem of (i). That is, individual agents can execute a political hack sans a legal one, but vertically integrated global corporations cannot. Hence, our global corporate media agents now are dropping their planned entrance into this space.

(iii) individual agents can perhaps hack a political defense against “political charges” but the political hack may very dissipate if the charges are “sex crimes.” This, by the way, is hardly paranoia or conspiracy theory. George Orwell, who I consider the greatest political commentator of the 20th century, laid it out very clearly that accusation of sexual pathology was Standard Operating Procedure by the regime against “enemies of the State.”

The summary of the summary is this: politics may be hackable but capital is not. Politics is plutocratic but capital has become largely oligarchical. Simply, if someone like Assange cannot be charged legally with a “crime against the State,” but Wkileaks nonetheless can be cut off from the Global financial banking system, then this is exhibit A of a definition of oligarchy of capital. Not only is Capitalism been severed as a necessary condition for political freedom, but Assange and Wikileaks threaten to demonstrate that Capitalism is converging to a sufficient condition for a denial of political freedom. You doubt this? Well, simply read this recent editorial by the Washington Post that advocates a proper course of action if Ecuador grants Assange political asylum: revoke Ecuador’s “free trade” status.

Simply, if the oligarchy of capital is sufficient to stall out document-sourced journalism, then we shouldn’t expect an extradition of Assange by the US Government. Frankly, that would be stupid because it would be exactly that kind of outrageous politically motivated action that could spur DSJ back into major play. If the US was going to charge Assange with a “legal crime,” they could have already done so and extradited him directly from the UK.

For those who continue to put capitalism at the root of political legitimization, the case of Assange and Wikileaks should serve as a cautionary counter-factual of why that position may need to be re-evaluated.


As a side note, I would like to extend my congratulations to Michael Moynihan for his current gig with the Washington Post. A “libertarian” writer I would most associate with de-legitimizing ” western dissidents,” and a media organization that perhaps best represents the “capitalist” version of the Kremlin is a very predictable thing to behold. Onward “golden age…”