Wikileaks is Back! Our Media Impact and Reputation Analysis

Wikileaks is coming back in releasing secret and confidential documents, few weeks after many considered this organization a dead one as they announced cease of operations due to financial struggles.

Now Wikileaks is publishing a selection of messages from the apparently 5 million emails leaked from private intelligence corporation Stratfor.

Publishing and diffusion strategy chosen this time differs from Manning source Department of State disclosures. In that occasion, Wikileaks partnered with few selected leading newspapers, like New York Times, The Guardian or El País. Now they have chosen a widen range of newspapers, some 25, from different countries. In some cases the newspaper chosen is not the leading reference in the country. My perception is that this new strategy will ensure the final publication of the leaked documents. In the previous release, top leading newspapers had too much to lose, creating self-restrain in the diffusion of secrets. This will not be the case this time, as second line newspapers have much to gain by revealing compromising secrets. As for the public opinion impact, it will depend in the quality of the content revealed. If this simply consist in shocking but irrelevant information about leaders, public interest will fad away quickly.

The role of Wikileaks is highly controversial and divisive. Some see its activities as an act of transparency that increases democracy and human rigths standards. Other consider Wikileaks not only as an organization following illegal and unethical practices, but also as an enemy of democracy by publishing highly sensitive issues affecting security and rights of individuals and societies. This strong confrontation of views will undoubtly remain with the ongoing flow of revelations. Polarization will probably exacerbate if it is confirmed that information from Stratfor has been obtained by pure hacking activities performed by Anonymous like activists.

We want to remind the general policy that we follow in this blog: our aim is to show what we find and learn by using empirical media and social media analysis to crisis. We never take a position for or against any of the issues behind the crisis analysed. Our personal position is not relevant for readers. We will not say if we like or dislike what Wikileaks is doing and has done previously. We want to show and share our findings concerning media impact and reputation implications of revelations made by Wikileaks, as we are currently doing for other different reputation crisis.

Besides this always present questioning of legitimacy by many, Wikileaks will be faced to a credibility test. Documents leaked do not com from official and appealing US State Department civil servants, but from a private intelligence corporation. There are some analysis that consider that the source used (Stratfor) is itself quite irrelevant in terms of access to truly sensitive diplomatic information. If the quality of the information of the source is poor, so will be the relevance and credibility of the ‘secrets’ revealed. See for instance the severe attack by Max Fisher, The Atlantic (27 February 2012):

The corporate research firm has branded itself as a CIA-like “global intelligence” firm, but only Julian Assange and some over-paying clients are fooled.

(…) According to Anya Alfano’s email, Stratfor’s target was PETA, the animal rights group, and its client Coca-Cola. Their top secret mission was to find out “How many PETA supporters are there in Canada?” and other tantalizing global secrets that could only be secured through such top-secret means as calling PETA’s press office or Googling it. Alfano concluded her chilling email, “I need all the information our talented interns can dig up by COB tomorrow.”

(…) The group’s reputation among foreign policy writers, analysts, and practitioners is poor; they are considered a punchline more often than a source of valuable information or insight. As a former recipient of their “INTEL REPORTS” (I assume someone at Stratfor signed me up for a trial subscription, which appeared in my inbox unsolicited), what I found was typically some combination of publicly available information and bland “analysis” that had already appeared in the previous day’s New York Times.

(…) Stratfor is not the shadow-CIA that Wikileaks seems to believe it is, but much of the blame for this mistake actually lies with Stratfor itself. The group has spent over a decade trying to convince the world that it is a for-hire, cutting-edge intel firm with tentacles everywhere. Before their marketing campaign fooled Anonymous, it fooled wealthy clients; before it fooled clients, it hooked a couple of reporters.

Wikileaks crisis was at the origin of this blog, as we expected a massive reputation crisis for many leaked political leaders and local political decisions. At this point, we are not sure that the political damages were substantial.

We proposed a number of analysis to provide information concerning the impact of this crisis in terms of media coverage and content analysis. As we count with this information, we are able to compare the extent and impact of this eventual new crisis in comparison with the previous one. We will provide probably in the future some of our results in this blog.

Some of the findings we got by applying media impact analysis to previous WikiLeaks leaked documents are, for instance:

  • In the initial massive media coverage given to informations concerning political leaders. Some information were politically relevant, while many other were simply shocking reaction to candid judgements about foreign leaders by US State Department officials:

As expected, US President Barack Obama is the leader in charge most affected by Wikileak crisis. He receives a global media attention of 70.4 points. This means that he has generated an amount of news related with Wikileaks that is 70 times higher than the average of news received by all national leaders. Russian Primer Minister Vladimir Putin comes number two, with 26 points of media attention. Third is Italian Silvio Berlusconi, with 23,7 points. Julia Gillard, from Australia, the home country of Julian Assange comes next. All top political and economic powers are present among top 10 countries, except China leaders, who do not even appear among top 20.

We find among top positions leaders from non democratic countries, or from countries in conflict.

Looking at the recent trend, we identify an upward relationship with Wikileaks issues with the leaders of the following countries: Australia, Germany, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Yemen.

Heads of State and Governement and Wikileaks (I)

  • We published also the list of American companies that were most affected by Wikileaks crisis, again in term of global media impact. We present below the list of top 20 companies.

See:  American Firms Affected by Wikileaks News

  • Wikileaks revealed messages shown the existence of bad practices affecting in some cases not only politicians, but also private corporations. We choose the case of Chevron, accused of negotiating investments in Iran despite US prohibitions (see Wikipedia references). We applied in that post our news content analysis in diamonds of brand values. News about Chevron related to Wikileaks damaged its brand reputation. See for example, the case of the brand vector associated to ‘Scandal’
  •  We used also Wikileaks impact as means to check how the information is digested by local media in each country. By analysing the media attention given to selected issues in a country by comparising with average international attention, it provides relevant information about local sensitive issues and political problems. We selected the case of Pakistan. See for instance some of the topics that deserved more media attention by Pakistani newspapers than in average

See: Wikileaks Issues Viewed from: Pakistan

  • We checked also the role of Wikileaks in the initial stages of the Arab Spring with the revolts in Tunisia. We showed that many international news providers used leaks aired by Wikileaks to explain the political problems underlying the crisis that eventually produced a change of regime. The figures below shows that when the crisis exploded in terms of international media coverage, by late December, international media impact of news about Tunisia exploded, but the share of them referring to Wikileaks was maintained or increased. We run a similar analysis for Egypt and Tahir Revolution, and we found out that Wikileaks was a much marginal source used by international media for explaining what was happening in crisis in Egypt.

See: Tunisia Crisis as A New Use of Wikileaks Cables: Explaining and Judging