The WikiLeaks task force, the whistleblower organization’s official “support account,” is considering creating an “online database” of all verified Twitter users and “their family/job/financial/housing relationships,” per a tweet that stirred up a lot of panic on the social network this afternoon.
We are thinking of making an online database with all "verified" twitter accounts & their family/job/financial/housing relationships.
— WikiLeaks Task Force (@WLTaskForce) January 6, 2017
The idea here seems to be that creating a public record of personal details on people with blue checkmarks will pressure these influencers to be more accountable for what they post online. But this project is really more like a heightened form of doxxing and a disturbing invasion of privacy.
In a follow-up tweet, WikiLeaks wrote that it is “looking for clear discrete (father/shareholder/party membership) variables that can be put into our AI software.” So a public figure—that is, someone with a blue checkmark (which, mind you, goes well beyond being a member of the “MainStream Media)—will be thoroughly researched and any information WikiLeaks deems pertinent will be placed into the database. In the name of highlighting conflicts of interest, WikiLeaks has proposed something akin to a witch hunt.
In another tweet it clarified that this information would help “develop a metric to understand influence networks based on proximity graphs.” So your blue checkmark makes you in an “influence network,” and all your previous actions are therefore subject to indiscriminate interrogation by an anonymous digital source.
This whole idea is ironic beyond belief. After all, WikiLeaks has long touted its role as a platform for whistleblowers who sound the alarm about the dangers of the surveillance state. Creating a database of random internet users with details of their personal lives is exactly the kind of action that WikiLeaks would righteously expose and condemn were it done by a government. And the task force’s project came on the heels of earlier tweet which lambasted U.S. government officials for leaking information to NBC News before giving it to Trump. In other words, WikiLeaks was angry that government information was… leaked to the press.
The implications for all of this are disturbing. In its pursuit of shining a light on government corruption—which it seems to believe is enabled and empowered by a complicit media—the whistleblower organization is abandoning the core principles it has loudly proclaimed for years. Currently this idea of a database is only a tweet: just an idea that Julian Assange and his team are spitballing. But if they follow through on this idea, it could have a chilling effect on journalism and even endanger individual journalists (as well as every other verified user on Twitter). All because of a self-proclaimed independent journalism organization.
The future is scary.