Contesting Power Relations - The banking blockade against WikiLeaks - reflections and consequences

by Maria Mei-Mei Kjær Petersen

Institution: Roskilde University
Year: 2014
Keywords: Anonymous; Wikileaks; Power; Counterpower; banking blockade; Manuel Castells; Lance Bennet; media; network society; collective intelligence; ddos; hacking; hacktivism
Record ID: 1122477
Full text PDF: http://rudar.ruc.dk/handle/1800/16297


This project examines the events following WikiLeaks’ release of 'confidential' information exposing the internal workings of US corporations, government and military. As a response to WikiLeaks’ acts of whistleblowing and publishing, numerous corporations discontinued services to the organization - costing it dearly. In defense of not just Wikileaks, but what seemed to be an attack on civil liberties and freedom of speech, the Internet hacktivist movement Anonymous initiated a global hack-attack, to strike back at these financial institutions and corporations. To better understand these events that took place in late-2010, a case study of the banking blockade of WikiLeaks is the focal point of analysis. With point of departure in the notions of power relations, power and counterpower, this case examines Anonymous’ response. These events, and the role of the different social actors involved in the case, are examined from three main viewpoints: that of the ethical, political and practical. The theoretical framework is shaped by ideas deriving from the three theorists Manuel Castells, Lance Bennett, and Henry Jenkins. Through a critical analytical strategy, a deeper understanding of the case is sought in order to elucidate both the political intentions behind the banking blockade, and the actions and responses carried out by the organizational and social actors involved. As is demonstrated through a discourse analysis, the banking blockade can be seen as an example of how power relations are at play, both with big companies and smaller grassroots ventures like WikiLeaks and Anonymous. These power relations are embodied in the communicative strategies employed by both smaller organisations, and the powerful corporations, that are driven by the attempt to terminate threats or so-called counterpower as exercised by WikiLeaks and Anonymous. Such constellations of power are revealed as the analysis progresses. This study arrives at the conclusions that: political independence of financial and media networks is of the essence, and that transparency, and grassroots media is an essential component of counterpower, securing freedom of the press and accurate information to the public.