The month of June is well-known for its special observances and hashtag causes that promote positive societal causes. They include Social Media Day (June 30) and of course, LGBTQ Pride (celebrated all month). As June draws to a close, the Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival fondly looks back at these observances, as they can be used to celebrate the efforts of brave whistleblowers who fight to uncover global corruption and wrongdoings.
LGBTQ Pride Month
In commemoration of Pride Month, WSFF recognizes two international whistleblowers who identify themselves as LGBTQ: Canadian Christopher Wylie and American Chelsea Manning.
In March 2018, Wylie, a gay data consultant, uncovered a significant bombshell from within Cambridge Analytica, his former employer which was the political consultancy under the Trump Campaign. Wylie revealed Cambridge Analytica had illegally acquired the personal Facebook information of 87 million people and utilized it to construct psychological voter profiles without the Facebook users’ consent. Wylie’s revelations further divulged that Cambridge Analytica had devised social media narratives that fueled possible corrupt influences including black voter turnout suppression, and the intensifying of racist views from some white voters.
His efforts created a decrease in Facebook’s credibility to provide privacy protections for its users, as well as triggering worldwide demand from governments to regulate the social media giant. Staff from the Trump Campaign have since denied Cambridge Analytica having been involved in the campaign. Nevertheless, Wylie stands firm in his efforts to blow the whistle on Cambridge Analytica’s unethical and illegal practices. In a recent interview with Time.com, Wylie offered the following legal advice to would-be whistleblowers:
“Talk. To. A. Lawyer. As obvious as that piece of advice is, this is something that whistleblowers almost never do. They jump to handing over stuff to journalists or they go public and they don’t think things through. You will be a far more effective whistleblower if you operate within a legal framework.” (Source: Time.com)
Chelsea Manning was born Bradley Manning in 1987. Later she would identify as transgender and legally changed her name to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. She enlisted in the United States Army in 2007 before being sent to Iraq by 2009. It was during Manning’s service as an Army Intelligence Analyst in Iraq where she gained access to countless pieces of classified information, some of which were of illegal, violent natures. She was disturbed to discover incidents of attacks on unarmed civilians by US military forces, including airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan which resulted in many civilian deaths. (Sources:collateralmurder.wikileaks.org & reuters.com).
Manning would continue to gather highly-sensitive military information, including war logs from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and Guantanamo Bay prisoner-of-war assessments. By November 2009, she began delivering them to Julian Assange, activist and founder of Wikileaks. A victim of bullying since childhood, Manning was frequently targeted by her peers in the military and was demoted after an encounter against an officer. She reached out to and confided in hacker Adrian Lamo about the leaked sensitive material. Lamo would contact the Defense Department about Manning’s leaks, which led to her arrest in May 2010.
Manning was first imprisoned in Kuwait where she was placed under suicide watch. She would be transferred to a Marine base in Virginia under solitary confinement in a tiny windowless cell as she was still deemed a suicide risk. As a result she was denied a pillow or bed sheets and made to strip naked in her cell as supposed suicide precautions. Subsequently word of her harsh imprisonment had spread and stirred an international outcry. After being officially deemed no longer a danger to herself, Manning was later transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a cell with a window.
In June 2010 Manning would be charged with leaking classified information. The following March, she would be additionally charged with aiding the enemy since her leaked material was accessible to Al-Qaeda. In February 2013 during her court martial, she pleaded guilty to obtaining and leaking classified military information. But she would plead not guilty to several other charges.
By July 30 2013, she was found guilty of 20 counts of theft, espionage, and computer theft. Manning would be found not guilty of aiding the enemy. She was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment on August 21, 2013. Additionally, she was dishonorably discharged from her service in the United States military.
Indeed, these were serious charges, given that Manning’s actions may have significantly compromised U.S. military operations abroad. Yet, her sentencing was the subject of discussions and protests. Her transgender identity was finalized after she filed a court petition to be legally recognized as Chelsea Manning by April 2014. Nevertheless, she would continue to struggle against authority restrictions during her imprisonment, including her hair length. Her attorneys would file an appeal against her conviction and 35 year sentence, denouncing the punishment with statements such as “No whistleblower in American history has been sentenced this harshly” and “perhaps the most unjust sentence in the history of the military justice system.”
Despite the seriousness of her charges, Manning’s sentence did reach ears within politically higher ground. Following a petition containing 117,000 signatures, then-President Barack Obama granted her clemency by commuting her remaining sentence. After serving seven years of her 35-year sentence, Chelsea Manning was officially released on May 17, 2017.
In the end, it was not Manning’s intention to compromise American lives. Instead, she explained she intended to encourage discussion and debate towards these violent acts upon innocent civilians abroad. Chelsea Manning risked a multi-year prison sentence, as well as political and social backlashes, to uncover these troubling situations to the world.
Social Media Day, June 30
In our coordinated efforts to support whistleblowers like Christopher Wylie and Chelsea Manning, the Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival always utilizes the most effective tools to promote their hard-fought battles. As our organization’s name suggests, WSFF believes in the power of film to tell the tales of whistleblowers and their efforts to unveil specific injustices.
Another potent resource in our arsenal of communication is the Internet, in particular the far-reaching influence of Social Media. The Internet itself with its many authentic search engines and informational websites about whistleblowers. Our website, is a good place to start for general research.
But Social Media itself can also be practical. Social Media platforms, if used correctly and properly, can provide strong forums for discussion, analysis, and intelligent debates towards the influence of whistleblowers. In the United States, users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and others are allowed to use these major platforms to voice their opinions, feedback, and other forms of commentary as First Amendment-protected freedoms of speech, provided that they do not incite lawless action. Several platforms such as Facebook and Twitter either greatly reduce misinformation (or so-called “fake news”), or disallow it completely during specific socio-political events like election years if voter turnout suppression is detected. (Source: freedomforuminstitute.org)
Nonetheless, on this Social Media Day, WSFF supports the proper use of Social Media as a means of discussing and promoting the societal impact of whistleblowers everywhere. We encourage our followers to visit our Social Media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube to discuss or share whistleblower-based news and information with others. After all, our organization proclaims that “whistleblowers are the fifth estate of freedom and liberty.” WSFF regards Social Media discussions as an important use of our freedom and liberty as well, with specific limitations bound to the law.
We also encourage all newcomers to visit our homepage at https://www.whistleblowersummit.com/ for more information about our upcoming 2021 Film Festival event, taking place on July 23, 2021 to August 1, 2021. Additional details can be found online at https://filmfreeway.com/WhistleblowerSummit-FilmFestival.
Whistleblower Summit & Film Festival stands strong in educating about and battling against fraud. Adding to the event will be an Encore Presentation of this year’s WSFF film lineup.
John Warren, Chief Strategy Officer of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, discusses the importance of International Fraud Awareness Week and explains how bystanders can get involved in the discussion.