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‘The Fifth Estate' Illustrates Current Challenges In The Digital Era

Janet Lee |
October 15, 2013 | 2:59 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate" (Walt Disney Studios).
Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate" (Walt Disney Studios).
“A man with a mask will tell the truth,” Julian Assange states in Bill Condon's upcoming film, “The Fifth Estate.”

If we do not know where the leak is coming from, it removes fear. That is the beauty of it. And it was from this ideology that Assange built his empire—Wikileaks. His desire to bring democracy and justice through anonymity had its highs and lows, the latter, which is particularly emphasized in the film. 

READ MORE: Film Review: 'The Fifth Estate'

The film depicts Assange as a quirky but brilliant fellow who effortlessly exposes unethical institutions. There is a lot to celebrate under his wing. He understands the essence of the digital era that we dwell in, making the insightful point of how our world is “run by artists and creatives.” 

Assange’s ego is particularly depicted as the driving force behind the Wikileaks scandal. His passion to expose corruption grows into an obsession that makes him blinded by injustice and bias. He takes the two factors to extreme measures, renouncing redaction. His refusal to remove personal information of the individuals being exposed makes us question Assange’s actions and motives behind his empire. 

Exposing secret information endangers people's lives. This is what Assange fails to acknowledge in the film. Having access to information is power. And power, depending on how it is utilized, comes with good and bad. His failure to achieve a balance between transparency and privacy clashes with ethics.

In the digital era that we dwell in, we are blessed to have access to a mass of information through the various social platforms that the Internet provides. Although we embrace the numerous benefits and possibilities of the transparent nature that it holds, it has its setbacks when it comes to privacy. There is always a limit to how much we want to expose. In any context, we do not welcome the invasion of privacy, as it has the potential to put our lives and the lives of our loved ones in danger. 

READ MORE: WikiLeaks: Friend Or Foe?

Wikileaks’ objective is to eradicate privacy and that is where the film ultimately jabs its finger in. Assange is head of a dangerously powerful empire that flips over the cards through anonymity and full exposure. 

We will never know what is fact and what is fiction from watching the film and even from reading the news. Thus, we do not have any right to proclaim anything as truth. Regardless, “The Fifth Estate” leaves us with relevant questions that are important to us as active users and players of digital technology. How do we relieve the tension between transparency and privacy? Between justice and protection? 

The film does not necessarily instill a sense of paranoia and rage within us. Instead, it brings light to the contradictory nature of digital media that is a central force in our lives today. Digital technology provides endless possibilities that come with risk and consequence. “The Fifth Estate” helps us foster a more insightful perspective in the world we live in today. 

READ MORE: WikiLeaks Releases Julian Assange's Letter To Benedict Cumberbatch

"The Fifth Estate" opens in theaters on October 18th. Watch the film's trailer below. 

Reach Staff Reporter Janet Lee here. Follow her on Twitter



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