For some former supporters, WikiLeaks pinned the scarlet 'H' of hypocrisy to its gown when founder Julian Assange turned to press freedom foe Rafael Correa of Ecuador for political asylum.
This week, WikiLeaks further alienated some of its allies – including underground hacking collective Anonymous – when the freedom-of-information advocate erected a pop-up window, which many news organisations have described as a ‘paywall’ but it prefers to call a 'blockade,' in the path of visitors to its site.
On the same evening that WikiLeaks uploaded its newest trove of leaked ‘Global Intelligence Files’ regarding the U.S. presidential elections, users visiting the site began bumping into a page illustrated with a wallet and credit cards, and bearing the headline, “In this election, vote with your wallet: Vote WikiLeaks.” To get past the pop-up, users were asked to either share the embedded video on Facebook or Twitter, or to make a donation.
Anonymous was not impressed. The amorphous group of ‘hacktivists' has been a loyal backer of WikiLeaks in the past – notably in late 2010, when it carried out cyber attacks against PayPal and other institutions that had stopped handling donations to WikiLeaks. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, though, it posted a furious reaction through one of its accepted mouthpieces, the @AnonymousIRC Twitter handle:
The same Twitter account published a lengthy statement in which it said that it has been "worried" for some time about the direction in which WikiLeaks has been going, and claimed that the group's focus had "moved away from actual leaks and the fight for freedom... while it concentrated more and more on Julian Assange."
“We cannot support anymore what Wikileaks has become - the One Man Julian Assange show,” it continued.
@AnonymousIRC acknowledged that, as one of several Twitter accounts associated with the hacker group (“albeit an established one”), it could not speak for Anonymous as a whole. Still, with several other Anonymous handles showing similar discontent, the verdict seemed clear: Anonymous was severing ties with WikiLeaks.
Assange, who remains wedged between a rock (extradition to Sweden on charges of sexual assault, which he denies) and a hard place (arrest by British officials if he leaves the embassy to seek asylum, granted by Ecuador), did not respond personally, but @WikiLeaks tweeted in self-defence:
However, its peace tweety (sorry) read more like a declaration of “frenmity” than an olive branch:
Guilty of hypocrisy or not, Wikileaks needs all the friends it can get. Like many other providers of online information, it is in a grave financial plight: the donation-reliant organisation is embroiled in costly legal disputes, and is still blocked from accepting funds through various institutions.
Meanwhile, while British and Ecuadorian authorities butt heads over his fate, Assange has earned an unspecified advance for co-authoring a book, whose title will no doubt deepen the curls in some cryptic Guy Fawkes smiles: Cyberpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.
Photo of Guy Fawkes masks, the characteristic disguise of Anonymous members, via Flickr Crative Commons