Issues of transparency are not new, but have been magnified in the information society—often because of the scale and scope of information available—and because news media are increasingly part of the story, not merely, the storytellers.
roles played by leading newspapers worldwide—the New York Times, Washington
Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, O Globo, El Pais and others—in reviewing and
publishing stories based on disclosures by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden’s NSA
files have thrust them into the debate about how much transparency
society needs. Arguments over information they published and whether
disclosures serves public purposes have been animated. These debates highlight
differences in views about transparency in security matters, but they also are
forcing society to address more fundamental issues about transparency involving many other issues.
debates are not just a struggle over information and secrecy, but about the bases of
human interaction and experience. Transparency is a philosophical and ideological concept
based on the view that disclosure is good for society. From a philosophical
standpoint, however, transparency is not good in itself—like serenity, beauty, or truth—because
for thing to be good in itself it cannot produce harm. Transparency, however,
can produce negative consequences by harming dignity and modesty, creating
surveillance and means for coercion, endangering public safety, fuelling
violence and conflict, and exposing proprietary information in ways that harm
Transparency does have functional value for achieving desirable outcomes, such as understanding the environment, exposing corruption
and abuse of power, promoting trust, facilitating democratic decision making, and making price evaluations in markets. Information must be available or effective choices cannot be made. But it is not exposure merely for the sake of exposure, so it must be
balanced with concepts of privacy, solitude, and security—which lead to
debates about when and how transparency is practiced.
debates taking place today are part of a highly visible struggle over
transparency in information age. Digital platforms and all media are playing
central roles in debates about the proper extent of transparency involving government,
business, banking, and our personal lives. Media themselves are also gathering and
using data from their users for their private gain, just as are other companies.
of the debates are occurring because of the differing norms and mores of the material and
digital world. The norms of the material world tend to involve structure,
authority, control, hierarchy, and formality; whereas the norms of immaterial
world involve amorphous arrangements, collaboration, empowerment,
egalitarianism, and informality. These differing norms and the struggles over
the norms have significant implications for government, business, and personal
life. They are part of a fundamental struggle over the political economy of information and data.
Anonymous, and other actors are active participants in the struggle and
battling powerful commercial and governmental forces that wish to impose the
norms of the material world into the digital, non-material world. It is not
surprising they have brought major media into their campaigns, nor should not be
surprising that they have fallen afoul of state power. Activists with
libertarian and anarchistic tendencies have historically generated backlashes
from the state and elites because threats to power typically result in the
exercise of power—a very Machiavellian response.
debates over transparency, the use of information and data, and who should be
transparent about what will grow more heated in the coming years. Media
and media businesses will play important parts in the debates, not merely as conveyors of
information about others, but also about the extent to which they will become more
transparent on their own.