Most third sector organizations tend to develop in a rather steady and even assuming manner. Their target populations slowly become aware of services offered and those within their respective communities gradually begin to acknowledge the work and impact that they are having.
But not every nonprofit organization follows this progression.
With Election Day 2016 now behind us, it is safe to say there were significant revelations about political candidates and parties reported by traditional media sources, by the ever-growing roster of “alternative media” sources, as well as by entities who don’t seem to have any substantial media-related infrastructure or focus. One such organization that falls into the latter category is actually a nonprofit organization that got its start, innocently enough, by revealing plans to assassinate certain African politicians.
WikiLeaks isn’t exactly the “typical” third sector organization.
While the nonprofit status of WikiLeaks is oftentimes debated, much more polarizing are the tactics that are used by the organization in order to fulfill its organizational slogan (“We Open Governments”).
Throughout the course of the recent U.S. presidential election cycle, there were numerous “information drops” (where large amounts of classified information were released by WikiLeaks after being obtained via different, oftentimes questionable methods) that were intended to draw attention to select activities related to the current presidential candidates as well as to their respective political parties.
While many condemn such activities, citing violations of privacy in addition to the possibility that “leaked” information can be detrimental to national security, others applaud the transparency that resulted from WikiLeaks’ activities in these regards. However, a central question that anyone who follows or has vested interest in the nonprofit sector remains: is this the kind of activity that the third sector should be associated with?
To the answer this question, it is important to remember that there are a variety of classifications of nonprofits and that the purposes of each differ, in some cases, greatly. Should the nonprofit be concerned with advancing a particular social cause or should it be more self-serving, “looking out” for the interests of dues-paying members? Do the activities that nonprofits engage in and the associated outcomes have to be universally benevolent in nature?
Perhaps greater scrutiny should be applied to those who have personal vested interest in favor of and against WikiLeaks operations. Although exceptions exist, WikiLeaks tends to target larger-scale operations or questionable activities by prominent government officials and their associates. That a particular government would either be delighted by an information leak or incredibly troubled and possibly even hostile in response to a leak is telling and could suggest that the content itself is either extremely dangerous, extremely relevant to public interests, or both.
Ultimately, there are many who argue that WikiLeaks does not meet certain criteria that are, in their minds, “required” for any nonprofit. The fact that the organization is not registered in a more traditional sense and that it lacks “transparency” is oftentimes used against the organization, but these aren’t technically requirements for a third sector organization (although authorities in different jurisdictions could argue differently). The missions and activities of a number of third sector organizations are routinely scrutinized while many are critical of nongovernmental organizations’ presence in certain regions, including in the developing world. These kinds of differing opinions regarding the true roles and acceptable conduct of nonprofits should be taken into consideration when contemplating the work that WikiLeaks is engaged in.
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