Posted on May 18, 2017
Julian Assange’s Wikileaks has offered $100,000 for a copy of the Trump-Comey tapes. Previously he has offered rewards for information on Obama Administration misdeeds, and for information on the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.
I do not admire this practice.
1. These rewards mark Assange as a partisan actor attacking specific enemies. (There is other evidence of his partisanship, which I won’t review.) My point is that partisanship casts doubt on the reliability of his information system. At the very least, it conclusively demonstrates selection bias. That is, the information on his website is tilted towards certain conclusions and therefore underrepresents other conclusions. It also conclusively demonstrates that he has specific political motives, which leave us unsure how much we can trust the accuracy of his information. It is for this reason that many top-notch journalists take care to refrain from any partisan political involvement. It is also for this reason that payment for information is frowned on among top journalists.
2. On the other side of the transaction, rewards distort the incentives perceived by the general public. One of the reasons we tend to trust whistleblowers who go public is that they are very likely doing so out of a civic conscience, usually at great cost to themselves. If they can achieve financial rewards, we can no longer be quite so clear as to their motives.
3. Moreover the whistleblowers themselves may come to doubt their own motives, making them less able representatives of their own critical viewpoints.
4. Moreover, potential whistleblowers who are NOT offered rewards may be discouraged from whistleblowing by the crass commercial nature of the enterprise–or they may hang back waiting for a reward to be offered.
5. Moreover, rewards create an incentive for clever bad actors to produce false information.
6. All of these doubts work to the benefit of bureaucrats who are trying to cover something up. It becomes all too easy easy to claim that any adverse information just represents another profiteering loudmouth.