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Posted at 08:15 AM ET, 04/20/2012

Does hacktivism mean the end of ideology?

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (VALENTIN FLAURAUD - REUTERS)
When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared on the first episode of his new talk show "The World Tomorrow", the moment was almost too meta for words: a man under house arrest in Britain was interviewing a Hezbollah leader — considered a terrorist in the United States and Europe — who was hiding in a secret location in Lebanon for a Kremlin-backed television station that was being broadcast around the world in English, Russian, Arabic and Spanish. Was this some kind of ideological maneuver by the Kremlin, a public relations ploy by Assange to rehabilitate himself or a symbol of how hacktivism is re-shaping global political discourse?

Unlike most of what passes for political discourse in America these days, on “The World of Tomorrow,” it can be difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. There are no scrolling tickers to guide our thought process, and no straw man arguments to bait the viewing audience. There is merely Assange, his guest and a team of translators. While some may dismiss Assange as a "nut job" doing his part for Kremlin TV , the fact remains that, in his questioning of Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah — a man who rarely grants interviews — Assange gave viewers around the world a chance to hear the point-of-view of a key political player in the Middle East whose ideology has been condemned by the West.

Assange (R) and Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (L) (CARL COURT - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Now, contrast Assange’s talk show with political talk shows in the United States. We live in a world of political pundits who take on predictable roles and follow basic ideological scripts. America, as a result, is a nation of increasingly divided “red states” and “blue states.” Imagine showing up for a conversation with a conservative talk show host and being lauded for liberal arguments, or showing up for a conversation with a liberal talk show host and being lauded for conservative viewpoints. It’s almost unthinkable.

Wouldn’t it be fascinating if the global hacktivist movement had the potential to erode traditional notions of national ideology? A key tenet of the hacktivist movement — maximum political transparency — combined with the power of the Internet to disseminate ideas far and wide, means that governments no longer exert the same control over ideologies that they once did. That’s as true in Washington as it is in Moscow. By leaking sensitive documents to the public and giving voice to people scorned by the West, hacktivists are changing the shape of political discourse. They are “hacking” the political system and cutting through ideaology — all in the relentless search for the truth.

I fully acknowledge that the "end of ideology"-argument is not novel. Daniel Bell and James Burnham, among others, suggested that the modern world no longer needed political ideologies. They envisioned a world of political stewards using modern technology to guide society forward. Assange’s talk show is still in its infancy, and the identity of future guests has not been announced, but in the show's trailer, Assange claims to be “on a quest for revolutionary ideas that can change the world tomorrow.” It would be strange if those revolutionary ideas look a lot like the ideas that were considered revolutionary half a century ago.

Dominic Basulto is a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists) in New York. Prior to Bond Strategy and Influence, he was the editor of Fortune’s Business Innovation Insider and a founding member of, one of the Web's first blog media companies. He also shares his thoughts on innovation on the Big Think Endless Innovation blog and is working on a new book on innovation called "Endless Innovation, Most Beautiful and Most Wonderful."

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By  |  08:15 AM ET, 04/20/2012

Categories:  Dominic Basulto, Technology, Morning Read

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