702 THE MIDDAY REPORT 10 December 2010 12:25 PM

Protestors move to cyber attacks

Staying with Wikileaks, you’ll be aware that attacks by so-called hacktivists continue on businesses that are perceived to have acted against Wikileaks. Amazon.com is one – Visa, MasterCard, PayPal are others. But Marthinus Strydom, marketing director of the McCarthy Motor Group, says we mustn’t think this couldn’t happen here. His point is that traditional protests have moved into the online world and that has implications for every business of every kind. He told the MR he thinks that SA companies should be aware that as consumers are more online, they will be more vulnerable to this sort of attack. A lot of companies are not aware of what is going on online and should take it very seriously, because consumers can destroy brands. They need to have a strategy around brand protection. Marketing and PR companies need to be engaged in this exercise and take it into the boardroom, see what’s going on and what people are saying about their companies online.

Guest: Marthinus Strydom
Organisation: McCarthy Motor Group
Position: Marketing director
Podcast: www.702.co.za/podcast/podcasts.asp

SA beware of the WikiLeaks ‘cyberwar’

As the unfolding WikiLeaks ‘cyberwar’ demonstrates, traditional protests have definitely moved into the online world. Marthinus Strydom, Marketing Director of McCarthy Motor Group, warns that we need to be aware of the fact that today, damage to companies, people and governments could come from online communities.

“On Wednesday top multinational companies and other organisations withdrew support for WikiLeaks and the result: a “cyberwar” of Internet activists who attacked its “enemies” web sites causing these corporate Web sites including Visa, Paypal and Mastercard, to become inaccessible or slow down markedly,” Strydom says.

“The real issue at heart here is that these organisations underestimated the power of today’s consumers who have become online activists – they either sing your praises or become cyber terrorists – your worst nightmare.

“In South Africa, a case in point is Woolworths attempting to remove a Christian Publication from its stores and being lambasted by an online community therefore having to keep the publication on its shelves.”

“Companies in South Africa need to take heed and plan strategically in terms of the scenarios that can happen online. These powerful super-consumers are able to voice their opinions very quickly via blogs and social media and will merge together for a common cause – as a group they pose a powerful threat to companies and brands.”

Consider the following staggering statistics which is growing daily: there are an approximate total of six-million web users in SA. A total of 14-million WAP users (those who use their mobile to access the web) across all three SA networks. There are 500-million Facebook users in the world – if it were a country it would be the third biggest on earth… in just four years! In South Africa there are three-million South Africans on Facebook and this is growing daily with 50% logging in daily.

“Companies that pull the wool over their eyes and think this can’t happen to them must think again. It is and it will. Consumers now have the same, if not more, marketing power as any organisation’s marketing team and online activists can damage a company, brands or people, within a matter of hours,” he says.

Managing Director of strategic communications company, Livewired PR, Janine Lloyd, concurs: “It is imperative for organisations to understand the power of these super-consumers and strategically consider the impact and reaction from these consumers to their business decisions. This kind of crises should not have happened. Did these organisations engage the communications experts to provide counsel on the impact of the collective decision to withdraw support for WikiLeaks? Probably not. Would the outcome have been any different? Probably.”

“Marketers and business leaders need to get up to speed with the digital world and its enormous power. We need to understand and plan strategically to integrate the digital world into our thinking and actions. Making critical business decisions without consideration or dialogue with audiences online is a big mistake,” she says.

“Understanding that we have little control or power over what consumers say is one of the basic truths in communications today, however companies must learn to engage and consider their online communities. They must even consider changing their business decisions based on the huge negative impact today’s super-consumer can have on their brands, company or people.”

Wikileaks and freedom of speech

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66CHVHH-fk8&fs=1&hl=en_US]

According to Mark Zuckerberg’s law information on the Internet will double every 18 to 24 months. The founder of the social media giant Facebook probably understated the growth of information, especially after the latest escapades of Wikileaks with the publishing of 251,287 United States diplomatic cables. The impact of these leaked documents have reverberated throughout the world and caused a freedom of speech conundrum.

WikiLeaks is an international non-profit media organization that publishes submissions of otherwise unavailable documents from anonymous news sources and leaks. Its website, launched in 2006, is run by The Sunshine Press. Within a year of its launch, the site claimed a database that had grown to more than 1.2 million documents.

According to Wikipedia, “WikiLeaks has described itself as having been founded by Chinese dissidents, as well as journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.” It has been a long time since there has been such a polarization of opinion over their motives, the quality of their information, the motives of their sources and about freedom of speech.

Although WikiLeaks consists of mostly unclassified documents there have been allegations that many people could die as a result of the leaks, primarily due to revenge attacks from Muslim extremists. Some of the names mentioned in the documents are purported to be the names of informants and spies.

Julian Assange - WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks is run by Julian Paul Assange, an Australian citizen. He calls himself the editor-in-chief and makes all the final decisions about what is published or not. Apparently he decides if the documents are safe to publish and if any person or people will be in danger due to the publication of the documents.  The US State department insists that governments should be able to have “private” conversations and that the leaking of the diplomatic cables is a violation of that right. Assange however claims that these documents expose the gross human rights violations committed by the US government in their fight against terror.

The question is whether the publishing of these documents are in the public interest or not. In my opinion the attempts by the US, British and Australian governments to shut WikiLeaks down and arrest Assange is the beginning of a very disturbing trend. The government doesn’t like what is being said and their response is to shut you down. Clearly that is a violation of freedom of speech. US supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor has said the court is likely to have to rule on the issue of balancing national security and freedom of speech due to WikiLeaks posting a cache of US military records about the Afghan war. Her comments came in response to a question about security and free speech by a student at Denver university. The judge said she could not answer because “that question is very likely to come before me”. She said the “incident, and others, are going to provoke legislation that’s already being discussed in Congress, and so some of it is going to come up before [the supreme court]”.

There is no question that WikiLeaks and in particular the leaking of this large cache of documents, is going to radically change journalism. The debate about freedom of speech is going to continue. Right or wrong, the website generated such an enormous amount of traffic that it’s just a matter of time before another 1,000 “WikiLeaks” pop up. The advertising revenue is just too attractive. Information and especially secret information is highly desirable and generates enormous interest and traffic. The Internet has once again proven that it cannot be controlled. For the time being WikiLeaks.org has been shut down but I am sure it’s going to pop up somewhere and I am sure this kind of information is going to continue to be published and distributed online and many people are going to make a lot of money from it.

It’s less about “freedom of speech” and more about “freedom of information”.