WikiLeaks is now following people on Twitter

The secretive organization was always talking, never listening, until now

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Oct 23 2014, 8:30pm

Image: the euskadi 11/Flickr

A couple years ago, Alex Gibney released We Steal Secrets, a documentary chronicling the plight of WikiLeaks and its co-founder, Julian Assange. Characterizing the Aussie and his organization as inaccessible, always-stipulating, and self-centered, Gibney in an interview implored me to take the organization's twitter account as an example of its brand of remoteness:

If you look at the WikiLeaks' twitter page, I think there's something like 1.5 million followers. And then look at how many people that site is following. Two. And they're both WikiLeaks sites, so, you know (laughs), that's kind of a grand metaphor. Lots to say, but not much to listen. Not much patience for listening, not much bandwidth for listening.

But yesterday, the account of 2.3 million followers started following Twitterers outside of its own family of accounts for what it told Motherboard was a "strategic reason." WikiLeaks declined to elaborate further.

I was alerted of the account's sudden following spree by my roommate who'd excitedly told me he'd just been followed by and had sent it a thanks-for-following direct message, but alas, he hath yielded no response.

The account is now following a large handful of international politicians and presidents, journalists, publishers, lawyers, whistleblower support and activist groups, including what appear to be all the Swedish embassies and ambassadors the account could manage to follow. Among its new followees is Googler-in-Chief, Eric Schmidt, the adversarial focus of Assange's recently-published book, " When Google Met WikiLeaks." At the time of this writing, WikiLeaks was following 1,491 people and counting fast.

So, to reverse the logic of Gibney's "grand metaphor," is this the leak publisher's way of saying it's started listening? Or is it merely personal posturing for Assange's uphill battle toward amnesty? There's no separating WikiLeaks from Assange's personal struggles at this point, but it's also an important distinction to make that WikiLeaks and Assange still face what they say is the largest US investigation of a publisher in American history.

Then again, there also appears to be no separating Assange from Twitter, who once attempted to summon Alan Dershowitz to fight the US government's attempts to subpoena the WikiLeaks account. As much as any regular spectator would guess Assange as the account's sole-operator, WikiLeaks has weighed in against such an assumption:

@adrjeffries @motherboard Now? The @WikiLeaks account has always been run by shifts of WikiLeaks staff or approved volunteers.

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 23, 2014

The decision to start following people on Twitter is arguably insignificant. WikiLeaks has always interacted with people on Twitter, for example, especially when the organization  felt it was being maligned. But taking the step to opt in to others' opinions sends a stronger signal that WikiLeaks is willing to listen. Or maybe the organization just read some marketer's list of "10 Best Social Media Practices" and figured it could raise more donations if it employed a more generous #followback policy. In any case, this marks the one time I've ever felt that a Twitter account beginning-to-follow-people could warrant a headline, and hopefully the last.