Wikileaks is getting creepier.
The site on Friday announced a plan to build a publicly searchable database of every verified Twitter account. It later deleted the Tweet making the announcement. The database, according to the now-deleted Tweet, would document the family, job, financial and housing relationships of almost every prominent Twitter user.
“We are thinking of making an online database with all ‘verified’ Twitter accounts & their family/job/financial/housing relationships,” read the now-deleted tweet (archive). It said the organization is “looking for clear discrete (father/shareholding/party membership) variables that can be put into our AI software.”
The tweet, which came from Wikileaks’ “task force” Twitter account, didn’t clarify where Wikileaks would pull the information from, or what exact purpose it would serve. After it deleted the Tweet, the official account replied to verified members of the media who noted the Tweet’s sudden disappearance, and accused them of lying.
What kind of move is that?
— WikiLeaks Task Force (@WLTaskForce) January 6, 2017
The task force account also denied that what it had outlined in the Tweet amounted to doxing, or publishing people’s private information online without their consent. “Dishonest press reporting our speculative idea for database of account influencing *relationships* with WikiLeaks doxing home addresses,” wrote the task force. It insisted that journalists “cease and desist or face the consequences” in their condemnations of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The main WikiLeaks account (@WikiLeaks) confused matters even further, stating that only it—and no other Twitter accounts— is authorized to make statements on the group’s behalf.
The task force account followed that up by saying that it exists to “call out lies, smears and errors about @wikileaks in the media, and provide facts for those who want the truth.” It stated that it “only exists because @wikileaks faces a constant barrage of lies and smears EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.”
It posted a call to arms for its supporters to “find falsehoods” promoted by members of the media and politicians to “correct them.”
If established, the database’s main targets would be journalists, who make up most Twitter account holders with verified ticks. It would also affect celebrities and other popular influencers on Twitter. The verification system on Twitter was designed to increase confidence that users and brands are who they say they are. However, some users have lost their blue checkmarks following complaints about their conduct. Other controversial users, such as the conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos, have been banned from Twitter entirely.
The prospective database described by the WikiLeaks task force could provide bad actors with information about their targets, revealing their vulnerabilities through a Twitter account holder’s family and friends.
As one user, Mike Drucker, points out: “It’s the move of a group trying to create motherf**king 1984 with this dox list sh*t.”
Surely, such a database would only lead to more Pizzagate-style witch hunts borne by the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” connections it would build. The database may not necessarily contain dox, but it would certainly make it easy to go after someone.
When it was founded in 2006, WikiLeaks’ stated goal was to increase transparency in government and provide the public with information that would have otherwise remained secret. Through confidential leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, it released information about U.S. military operations, including alleged war crimes.
But it has since been accused of becoming a puppet for foreign governments hostile to the United States. WikiLeaks entered the public limelight during the recent US presidential election when it released a trove of embarrassing emails from the hacked accounts of Hillary Clinton advisor John Podesta and members of the Democratic National Committee.