Wikileaks: Dilemmas in the age of social media

February 15, 2011

One of the first global dilemmas of the age of social media is the tension between individual security and freedom of information. The dilemma is illustrated by the actions of Julian Assange and the Wikileaks website following the release of the Afgan war diaries in 2010

A BBC account provides a brief history of Wikileaks which was founded in 2004. The story as a global issue has become inter-connected with the turbulent private life of its charismatic founder Julian Assange.

According to its own website, the mission of Wikileaks is:

…the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history. We derive these principles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Article 19 inspires the work of our journalists and other volunteers. It states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. We agree, and we seek to uphold this and the other Articles of the Declaration.

…The great American president Thomas Jefferson once observed that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We believe the journalistic media plays a key role in this vigilance.

From its origins as a little-known freedom of information site in 2004, Wikileaks became a globally significant source of news in 2010 with its publicising of a vast cache of leaked documents about the War in Afghanistan. Recognising the dilemma of security versus freedom of information, it withheld information its own censored considered would put individuals at risk. It also chose to release news via three traditional news sources, the New York Times, Germany’s Der Speigel and the UK’s Guardian. The process led to Wikileaks being described as the first stateless news organization

The distinguished journalist Jay Rosen quickly noticed the significance of the strategy.

The WikiLeaks report presented a unique dilemma to the three papers given advance copies of the 92,000 reports included in the Afghan war logs — the New York Times, Germany’s Der Speigel and the UK’s Guardian. The editors couldn’t verify the source of the reports – as they would have done if their own staffers had obtained them – and they couldn’t stop WikiLeaks from posting it, whether they wrote about it or not. So they were basically left with proving veracity through official sources and picking through the pile for the bits that seemed to be the most truthful. Notice how effective this combination is. The information is released in two forms: vetted and narrated to gain old media cred, and released online in full text, Internet-style, which corrects for any timidity or blind spot the editors at Der Spiegel, The Times or the Guardian may show.

Daniel Ellsberg, the man who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, has been a frequent defender of WikiLeaks. In contrast,
Reporters Without Borders sent an open letter to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organisation, regrets the incredible irresponsibility you showed when posting your article “Afghan War Diary 2004 – 2010” on the Wikileaks website on 25 July together with 92,000 leaked documents disclosing the names of Afghans who have provided information to the international military coalition that has been in Afghanistan since 2001.

Assange and conspiracy theories

Meanwhile, the founder figure of Wikileaksfaces criminal changes for alleged sexual offences in Sweden. Conspiracy theorists are claiming that the charges are politically motivated. A summary of the Assange allegations can be found in the BBC account.

When partners fall out

The Guardian, one of the newspapers entrusted with a cache of wikileaks, is now [Feb 2011] embroiled in a dispute with Julian Assage. According to its friendly rival The Independent

Mr Assange divides the Left. He appals many women. Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy [a book published by The Guardian] is an attempt to separate the message from the messenger. It may succeed, but probably not completely. If Mr Assange should end up in a Swedish jail, on sex charges rather than because he has infuriated the US government, the reputation of WikiLeaks, and potentially that of its newspaper collaborators, is likely to suffer.

First Tunisia, then Egypt now Manchester United

February 12, 2011

The instability in The Middle East spreads to Manchester where the United regime is under attack. Protestors have surrounded Old Trafford. There are rumours that the Red Army is poised to seize control with backing from revolutionary Qatari forces

The whole of Greater Manchester is in the grip of a revolution aimed at toppling the deeply unpopular Glazer regime at Manchester United. Crowds have been gathering around Old Trafford overnight. Police reinforcements are believed to be on the way from Chorlton Cum Hardy’s equestrian riot squads.

Green, gold, red and blue

Some of the protestors are waving green and gold scarves. Others are dressed in United’s traditional red. There are also groups of troublesome neighbours dressed in blue and believed to be part of the Tevez brotherhood, led by the treacherous Carlos Teves, a former United warrior.

The red army may take control

The most sensational rumour is that the revolution has been backed by wealthy Qataris who plan to install a new regime. It is unclear how the day will unfold. The Red Army is believed to have thrown their weight behind the destabilising faction. President David Gill denies the rumours and says he intends to stay in charge.

Stop press

Rival red ands blue factions seem intent on doing battle before sundown. A 500 strong faction marches in Levenshulme together with resistance leader Gerald Kaufman (Bathist regime).

The People’s supermarket: A communitarian innovation?

February 9, 2011

Tudor Rickards

The People’s Supermarket, as televised on Channel 4, appears to be a social innovation offering a communitarian local alternative to the international retail giants. But there is more to this project than meets the eye

The People’s supermarket exists as a physical entity in London, with two entrepreneurial founders and a group of local members. It also exists as a Channel 4 television series. It can be said to exist as a visionary dream with social and communitarian values.

Over a million people watched the TV launch of the People’s Supermarket. This is sort of publicity most entrepreneurs can only dream about for a new venture. As I watched [February 2011] I had trouble getting my head around what I was seeing. Is this whole thing a creature of the media? A little more research and I discover even more publicity for the project in a recent [23rd January 2011] Guardian/Observer article.

The People’s Supermarket is giving it a go. Set up by Arthur Potts Dawson, who was behind London’s environmentally sound, award-winning Acornhouse restaurant, the mission statement is “for the people, by the people” which in practice means a not-for-profit co-op. Pay a £25 membership fee and sign up for a four-hour shift once a month and you become a part owner, have a say in how it’s run and receive a 10% discount on your shopping. The store itself, in London’s Lamb’s Conduit street, opened on 1 June [2010]

So what’s going on?

The initial fund-raising event involved sixty people lobbing up top-dollar prices for a special dinner cooked by a celebrity chef. That bit I understand. It’s a classic fund-raiser much loved by politicians. The creative edge was food ‘obtained’ from discarded stuff acquired by volunteers and discarded by the major supermarkets (but that’s another old media story, isn’t it?). The diners got their few minutes of TV exposure. Health worries were reassuringly addressed (they had begun to worry me, anyway).

By the end of the episode, the critical elements of the business model had become clearer. The success of the enterprise depends, pretty much as the Guardian indicated, on whether the community membership and volunteers will go on supporting the idea, and whether the products will generate footfall and satisfactory financials.

A bit of a mash up?

While the TV mockumentary would like to preserve the story line, information in today’s multi-media environment means that we can experience a bit of a mash-up. The Retail Gazette reported:

Kate Bull, the former Marks & Spencer commercial executive and co-founder of The People’s Supermarket alongside chef Arthur Potts Dawson, told Retail Gazette: “Average spend per person has grown from £3 to £5 in recent months. “On a Saturday – our busiest day – this has grown to just under £10.” The evidence suggests that the store is drawing a small percentage of locals away from the top grocers at weekends.

What happens next?

I just have a feeling there will be a few crisis points in the mini-series. Viewers will share the roller-coaster as Arthur, Kate and chums experience the pains and pleasures, the highs and lows of becoming involved in creating social reality. It is likely that the future of the venture will remain unresolved.

Maybe inferences will be drawn regarding David Cameron’s vision of The Big society. Or perhaps comparisons will be made with communitarian dreams such as that of the famous Mondragon community venture in the Basque region of Spain, or Ricardo Semler’s Brazilian vision.

Stop Press

By March 2011 the project had become a political football. The publicity had included a visit from Prime Minister David Cameron. But Labour-controlled Camden borough council had moved to claim unpaid rates of £33,000.

The Grigor McClelland Conference

This post was prepared as part of the celebrations planned for The Grigor McClelland Conference to be held at Manchester Business School, Friday April 8th 2011.

Cameron, multiculturalism and camping on seasaws

February 6, 2011

When a politician offers a simple idea on a complex issue it helps to examine possible concealed dilemmas. David Cameron’s speech announcing the failure of multiculturalism in the UK is a case in point

The argument has been developing that multiculturalism is a bad thing of itself. David Cameron appeared to be making it a significant part of Government policy to ‘do something’ about multiculturalism.

His speech [Feb 5th 2011] noted that “state multiculturalism” has failed society by encouraging different cultures to live separate lives from mainstream communities. Mr Cameron said multiculturalism had ended up promoting segregation, and that governments need to tackle the lack of identity in society, in order to tackle terrorism.

The Daily Mail was enthusiastic

The popularist Daily Mail newspaper was enthusiastic about the speech:

Mr Cameron set out the Government’s new hardline approach during a major speech on terrorism in Munich. He condemned the ‘soft Left’ who ‘lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances and arguing if only governments addressed them . . . terrorism would stop’. He blamed the ‘doctrine of state multiculturalism’ for ‘encouraging different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream’ which has contributed to ‘the weakening of our collective identity’. Mr Cameron, calling for a new ‘muscular liberalism’, said all public funding would end for groups that give succour to extreme beliefs.

The speech prompted opposition anger

Mr Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, infuriated Downing Street by claiming that Mr Cameron was ‘writing propaganda for the English Defence League’, an anti-Islamist street protest movement that numbers BNP [a right wing political party] supporters among its members. The more liberal broadsheets such as The Independent were also unimpressed. Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio of Manchester Business School wrote

“The Government talks of a big society but is unable to understand the rich, complex democratic spaces within society to which immigrants and especially Muslims contribute.”


A better analysis might start from a view that complicated issues tend to present dilemmas. Maybe they are moral dilemmas. Maybe they are political ones. Each situation is worth examining to see behind the uncritical stance that something is bad and needs fixing and this is how we propose to fix it.

Multiculturalism or integration: Is it a matter of either/or?

I don’t think it is a matter of either multiculturalism of integration. To see why that might be the case, we need to look at theories of how systems operate.

Camping on sea saws

A wider way of thinking about complex social systems was offered by the distinguished American academic Bill Starbuck. Many years ago, he co-authored an important paper Camping on Seesaws: Prescriptions for a Self-Designing Organization.

The article deserves study by any student interested in how complex social systems such as organizations can be understood to organise themselves for effective survival. The authors were primarily referring to business organizations, although the conceptualization seems to valid even for the far more complex political systems of the Nation State.

Avoiding serious problems

The authors say that “serious future problems can be avoided by keeping processes dynamically balanced.”

The basic idea applied to our present case is that processes for retaining the cultural identities of the parts need to be in balance with processes for development of the wider integrated whole. The idea is lost in popularist demands either for ‘more respect for multiculturalism’ or for ‘stronger national identity’.

Mubarak watch

February 5, 2011

The events of political turmoil in Egypt in the first two weeks of February 2011 are followed and evaluated for lessons of leadership and the management of change

Saturday February 11th Mubarak is gone. For Egypt there will now be a lengthy period in which the speed of change slows. Mubarak watch concludes. For status reports see
The Los Angeles Times
The Guardian/Observer

Friday February 10th

Friday mid-afternoon. Mubarak’s resignation announced. Much more to follow.

Mr Suleiman said Mr Mubarak had handed power to the high command of the armed forces.
“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he said.

Thursday evening, the world’s media turned to Tahrir Square. News was the Mubarak would speak to the nation to announce his resignation. Crowds expecting victory. Then dismay as Mubarak offers little. Confusion. Anger. “God help Israel now ” one commentator remarked. Fears for the next 24 hours.

Thursday February 9th

Intelligent discussion on BBC’s Newsnight. Historians plus activist spokesperson from Cairo. Lessons from history: revolutions result in emergence of ‘the strong leader’. Overnight, news of further initiatives, strikes in various parts of Egypt said to be ‘spontaneous’. Newsnight tested proposition that the protest could not bring down the Mubarak regime. Not easy to reduce to a logical proposition. Practically, Mubarak authority has been seriously and irrevocably damaged. He has lost unconditional support of his powerful ally the United States.

Wednesday February 8th Overnight view is broadly that there had been renewed efforts (if only in numbers) by the protestors in Cairo yesterday. Worth checking on the country-wide situation. A wikileaks view assembled by The New York Times mostly confirms what has been written about Mubarak’s negotiaons for US aid in return for his claimed ‘stong’ policies maintaining peace in the region. He viewed the removal of Saddam as a huge mistake which he believed made his own continued rule even more critical.
Tuesday February 8th In search of a leader? Aljazeera reports freeing of Google executive Wael Ghonim, whose facebook page has been considered to have triggered off the protests in Cairo.

Monday February 7th Overnight news indicates that the situation in Cairo has reached an impasse. The New York Times suggests it presents a dilemma for the Obama regime. Stock exchange opening has been postponed for 24 hours, as the government attempts to sell $2.5bn in short-term debt.

Sunday February 6th Muslim brotherhood in talks. Aljazeera suggests these to be ‘critical’ to next stage of events in Egypt. US sends mixed messages regarding the need for Mubarak to oversee a smooth transition of power. Brief opening of banks reminds us of the financial crisis running with the political one.

Saturday Feb 5th Yesterday’s ‘day of departure’ is now evaluated as no clear tipping point. Around 100,000 rather than a million people were reported around Tahrir Square. The possiblity of a longer struggle is now firming up.

One of the leaders of the protesters, George Ishaq of the Kifaya (Enough) movement, told the BBC they intend reduce their presence in Tahrir Square, holding big demonstrations on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Protesters will remain in Tahrir Square on all days of the week,” he said on Friday [4th Feb, 2011]. “But each Friday, there will be a demonstration like today.”

Friday Feb 4th This was the day announced in advance as the day when a million protesters would symbolically end the Mubarak regime. But the tone of reporting of a few days earlier has been somewhat muted. There is greater concern that there is more of a temporary condition of stalemate.

Another voice was raised in support of Mubarak, President Berlusconi of Italy, himself facing a struggle to survive politically. Like Tony Blair he considers the merits that stability of regime has brought to the wider Middle East.

Feb 3rd Situation is confused. Voice of America suggests that the Pro-Mubarak forces are gaining ground. The BBC however reports gains by the opposition demonstrators. What is clear that there have been fatalities acknowledged. Prime Minster Ahmed Shafiq broadcast an apology for the fighting, which has killed nine and wounded hundreds and promised an investigation. Tomorrow is the scheduled ‘day of a million protestors’.

Feb 2nd Reports a few days ago were talking of repid removal of the President from power. Now the tone is of more organized efforts to resist the revolutionary forces concentrated in Cairo. Jeremy Bowen of the BBC described events

Since I arrived a week ago I have seen no significant demonstrations for President Mubarak. But from the morning there were thousands of his supporters on Cairo’s streets, mobilised presumably by the ruling party, the NDP. The pro-Mubarak demonstrations were well organised, not spontaneous. Numbered buses unloaded supporters. Many placards looked as if they had been made by professional sign writers. Their opponents claim that they are paid to demonstrate. For an authoritarian leader like Hosni Mubarak, the sight of so many people in Tahrir Square calling for his removal must have been deeply humiliating. He will have wanted to reassert his authority over his capital city – and his supporters were given the job.

Grigor McClelland: A man for our times

February 2, 2011

On April 8th 2011, Manchester Business School celebrates the career and contribution to business and management education its first director, Professor Grigor McClelland. His was a remarkable leadership journey with lessons that are proving relevent to the challenges facing business and the global economy in the first decades of the 21st century

The celebrations will include a conference with review papers written by distinguished figures providing perspectives on major issues for executives and business scholars.

My own involvement in the story began in early 1974. I was on the point of becoming appointed a research fellow. Grigor had been appointed first Director of the School some years earlier. In the spirit of those days, an informal meeting had been arranged to confirm the arrangements.

Mutual interests of two Geordies?

I was ushered into Grigor’s office, where I was welcomed in a charming and (dare I say it?) a rather patrician manner. We found mutual interests in entrepreneurship, innovation and retail product development. I began to wonder whether I had misjudged the situation and I still had a hurdle to cross before my appointment would be ratified. Was this really some kind of low-key interview? If it was, it ended amicably and he escorted me the door. Yes, he added cheerfully. I would enjoy working at Manchester Business School. And, he added, mistaking my residual Welsh accent somewhat, it would be good to have a fellow Geordie on the staff.

Although I did not know it at the time, Grigor had already been an influential figure in shaping the future of leadership training in the U.K. and instrumental in the formation of two major business schools, at London and Manchester. This was at a time when one authority had been quoted as saying that Business schools are about as British as drum majorettes, and that in fields where they believe success depends primarily on experience and instinct, the British only turn to teaching as a last resort.

University and business tensions

Leaders of industry were largely recruited from two sources, an elite group with public school education, and a group rising through the ranks. Both groups were suspicious of formal training in management, and of the dangers of such training being delivered through a University system. Grigor McClelland arguably helped in a significant way in challenging these assumptions, although it is fair to say that the Universities were doubtful of the place of formal management education as part of the curriculum, and that the tensions have never been fully resolved a decade into the 21st century.

The ethical leader

His stance on ethical issues was revealed in an account reported by the BBC in 2003

One of north-east England’s leading businessman is handing back his CBE as a protest against the war on Iraq. Grigor McClelland, former managing director of Laws Stores, Tyneside’s biggest family-owned food store, took the stand against Tony Blair’s decision to send in the troops.

“Now that my country has joined an attack on Iraq in, what I believe, is a breach of international law, I no longer feel able to retain the honour given to me. I hope this will be seen as a statement of the very deep concerns I have.”

A Newcastle Quaker, Mr McClelland was a conscientious objector and first saw service with the Friends Ambulance Unit in the Middle East, working as a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver.

Post script

This review was prepared as part of the McClelland 50 year celebrations by editor of Leaders we deserve web site, Professor Tudor Rickards who is a member of the steering group for the events. We invite alumni, current and former staff and students of MBS to contact us via the web-page set up for the conference.

Egypt: Tipping point or business as usual?

February 1, 2011

Mohamed el-Bareidi

Egypt’s turmoil prompts questions about the outcomes of this week’s demonstrations. There has been speculation about irreversible change, or business as usual. One possibility is it that it may be both


The post was written originally at the start of the monumentous few weeks which eventually saw the departure of President Mubarak.

The original post follows:

One of the frustrations of theories of change is their frailty as predictive aids. History at best gives a cloudy view of what will happen and particularly when.

In the relatively simple circumstances of boardroom battles, it may just be possible to identify a few promising scenarios. But tipping points, however popular a business school concept, and however well-promoted by management gurus, are much easier to recognise in hindsight. In global political events involving the replacement of a national leader a perceived critical incident may be not much of a predictor.

The BBC identified three scenarios

The BBC has covered the uprising thoroughly. The Mubarak regime is regarded as an essential ally to American and Israeli interests. The army is considered as having more popular credibility with a reputation of avoiding direct action against the populance. The police less so. Nobel prize-winner Al-Bareidi [image above] has stepped forward as a realistic leader in waiting.

The BBC analysis has suggested three possible scenarios:
[1] Mubarak Quits: The escalating demonstrations show that “[many people] clearly want Hosni Mubarak to give up the presidency immediately. The most common demand, shouted and painted on banners, is the Arabic word irhal, meaning simply go.”
[2] Hosni Mubarak may attempt to stay (business as usual): He draws on the support of the police in its various guises. The army is signalling it would play a relatively neutral role.
[3] There is an ‘orderly’ transition to a more open society, free elections, regularly appointed political leaders

Tipping points and domino theories

Political strategists have found comfort in making sense of complex issues as being resolved by critical incidents. President Bush found the nine-eleven attacks such a defining incident clarifying his enemies. In hindsight it was all a bit more complicated. Yet tipping points and moments of destiny can seize the imagination. There is comfort in believing the future is clear. It is sometimes accompanied by a belief in the so-called domino theory in which loss of one strategic stronghold produces a sequence of losses. The concept is paralleled with the old story “for want of a shoe a horse was lost .. for want of a horse a battle was lost”. There has been such stories constructed over the last weeks: First Tunisia, next Egypt, (next the neighbouring states as if the revolutionary forces were spreading geographically like a plague, that other apocalyptic horseman

What will happen in Egypt?

Consider the events over the last few years globally. In Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe continues to resist attempts to ensure “fair and free elections”. In Iran, the “revolution through social media” has been halted. In Burma, the release of Aung san suu kyi may have been a Mandela moment, but the progress along the road to political freedom seems as long as ever.

What will happen in Egypt? Tipping points may have symbolic power, but more material factors and multiple stakeholders will make each sequence of political events distinct and with its unique set of circumstances. And yet there is also a sense of history repeating itself in nuanced form. There was a Mandela moment in South Africa. The Berlin Wall did crumble rapidly and literally. Mr Mubarak’s options are increasingly limited, but still not completely defined by forces outside his control. He does not yet have to resign his game of life and death chess.

If only because of his age, he will depart, perhaps earlier than he expected a month or so ago. Even then, it is not so clear that Mr Al-bereidi will be a tipping point in the processes of bringing about democratic change. The outcome may be more ‘business as usual’ of a time period longer than the protesters must be hoping for.