Can Transparency defend against Invisibility?: Secrecy, Openness and the State of Social Media

Rendition Map

In 2004, just as the rise of Web 2.0 ushered in a new wave of techno-utopianism, historian of science Peter Galison sketched out some rough calculations in an attempt to gauge the size of the so-called ‘classified’ universe. His conclusion: “Whether one figures by acquisition rate, by holding size, or by contributors, the classified universe is, as best I can estimate, on the order of five to ten times larger than the open literature that finds its way to our libraries” (“Removing Knowledge” 231). It would be more than a year later that The New York Times would reveal to the public that such secrecy had extended deep into the nation’s commercial telecommunications networks.

Nearly a decade since then, how have various campaigns that marshal the language and rhetoric of openness and transparency responded to the fact that we are dealing with information as structural absence? In what ways have different types of social and p2p media accounted for and responded to these facets of the so-called ‘public sphere,’ particularly as digital media proliferates exponentially? Is the rise of secrecy inextricably intertwined with the rise of digital networks? And how might we better register this seeming paradox when we rely upon digital media to define access and openness, when these technologies often arise from an inaccessible universe of government and corporate secrecy–a thicket of Non-Disclosure Agreements and Classification Actions?

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