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Wikileaks Gets Unabashedly Political

Nithin Coca headshotWords by Nithin Coca
Leadership & Transparency
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For many critics, the once heralded site for sharing information has become a political platform for its embattled founder and his vendetta against the U.S. Democratic Party – and the losers are all of us.

Wikileaks has taken center stage in the U.S. presidential race. Over the past few months, the site released a slew of hacked emails from some of Hillary Clinton's closest advisors, most notably John Podesta. The timing – and the fact that the emails may have been obtained by Russian hackers working with the country's authoritarian president, Vladamir Putin -- caused many to wonder what happened to the progressive Wikileaks of the past.

Things have changes so much that today even one of people who helped put Wikileaks on the map – Edward Snowden – criticized the platform in a recent Tweet.

Modest curation would mean vetting both the source of information and the impact of the timing of its release. Wikileaks seems to be doing little of either.

The name itself is a misnomer. Despite the use of the word “wiki” in its title -- a la Wikipedia, the global, crowdsourced information platform that operates under little oversight and almost complete community control -- Wikileaks remains in the control of its celebrity founder, Julian Assange, who has been holed-up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012.

Assange has a documented personal dislike for the Clintons. Thus, he is using his site -- which was conceived as a global, community tool -- as a political platform to influence the U.S. elections.

In fact, Wikileaks has become embarrassingly political. A few weeks ago, Assange promised “breaking” information during an “October surprise” press conference, which instead turned into a two-hour rant with little substantive information. What has come out since then is interesting – who knew Hillary at one point considered a carbon tax? -- but it's certainly not game-changing. The timing though – just weeks before the election – is incredibly suspect, as is the source of this information.

Want more evidence that Wikileaks has become blatantly political? Take a look at the Wikileaks Twitter feed. At first glance, it could be that of the Republican National Committee. Nearly every tweet is about Clinton, Obama or the election, and the feed doesn't take a particularly neutral tone.

For example:

On top of that are numerous retweets of Fox News articles, and the use of unflattering pictures of Hillary that could have come straight from the Trump campaign.

As the Guardian noted last week, this is a striking departure from what Wikileaks once was – a platform that received praise from the left for shedding light on government surveillance and providing a real, powerful service to netizens around the world.

"The seeming alliance between Trump and WikiLeaks is an astonishing role reversal," wrote David Smith, a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for the Guardian. "In 2010 it was lauded by transparency campaigners for releasing, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from U.S. embassies around the world. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange became a hero to many."

The truth is: We don't need to shed a tear for the site. In fact, Wikileaks may be unnecessary. The biggest leak this year is not the politically-charged materials released by Assange, but the Panama Papers. That release utilized modern technology and a team of independent, global journalists to vet, verify and publish information in the public interest in what many considered a model for journalistic integrity. Rather than focusing on a single country going through an election, reports were released in several countries simultaneously.

Perhaps Wikileaks could learn something from that undertaking. There's a right way to release information, and what is happening right now with Assange's once powerful site is anything but.

Image credit: Pamela Drew via Wikimedia Commons

Nithin Coca headshotNithin Coca

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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