Wikileaks is forming a so-called “Task Force” made up of volunteers to fight back online against critics and correct potential factual inaccuracies about the site’s work, the organisation announced at a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday.
“We are going to need an army,” Wikileaks’ editor Julian Assange said during the conference, via video link from London, especially as the publishing platform prepares to publish more material related to the US election.
Although much of the conference was spent reflecting on the organisation’s past publications, some attention was on how Wikileaks has come under intense criticism, particularly with its release of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and the (wrongfully) alleged disclosure of personal information of ordinary citizens in other data dumps.
“Not an army of course in a [context] of physical hostilities, but we’re going to need an army to defend us from the pressure that is already starting to arrive,” Assange added. “We have engaged in a new project; to recruit people across the world to defend our publications.”
Part of that “necessary defense of Wikileaks” comes in the form of the newly announced Wikileaks Task Force, which recently set up a Twitter account, and created an associative hashtag, #defendWL.
“Official Wikileaks support account. Verifying facts, correcting misinformation about Wikileaks. Join the WL Task force!” the bio of the Wikileaks Task Force account reads.
Funnily enough, one of the early followers of the account includes Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who claimed to have provided hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) data to Wikileaks, and which experts widely believe to be part of a Russian-intelligence-driven operation.
During the press conference, Assange also pointed to another recently created Twitter account, this one called Wikileaks Community.
“Support Wikileaks. Help us spread releases from Wikileaks or join [Wikileaks Task Force],” the account’s description reads.
What sort of behaviour will be tolerated, or encouraged, by Wikileaks?
Assange said more information will be released about the Task Force in the coming weeks, and guidelines will be issued to advise how volunteers can promote Wikileaks publications, and prevent censorship.
With all that being said, it’s not totally clear what the Task Force will be doing: will volunteers be tasked with going out and tweeting at people who have published apparently inaccurate articles about Wikileaks, or will they be able to choose their own targets? What sort of behaviour will be tolerated, or encouraged, by Wikileaks? How far can these volunteers go?
These questions are particularly important at a time when Twitter has battled with policing harassment on its network.
At first glance, this Task Force might not be a great look for Wikileaks: recruiting people to fight back on Twitter could backfire, and the rhetoric around an “army” doesn’t really help either.
Much criticism against Wikileaks has come from the perception that the organisation is deliberately or carelessly influencing the US election, specifically through well-timed releases of the DNC material.
Commentators also castigated Wikileaks for allegedly publishing the personal details of a large number of women in Turkey. However, Wikileaks did not publish those records directly itself, something that journalists were reminded of during the press conference.
Indeed, much of the press conference on Tuesday focused on dispelling “distorted facts” about Wikileaks.
“Is Wikileaks an ‘agent’ of any government such as Russia? No,” a print-out given to journalists at the press conference reads.
“Does Wikileaks seek to play a partisan role in the US election? No,” it continued.
During his talk, Assange hinted that future publications would deal with three different “powerful organisations”, in three different US states.