The Wikileaks Twitter feed is one of the saddest corners of the internet.
In the past week, the person behind the tweets has pulled out all the stops trying to discredit The Fifth Estate, a new movie about the whistleblowing website. These steps have included posting a pointless, amateurish graph; tweeting an email in which founder Julian Assange asks his cinematic likeness, Benedict Cumberbatch, to compare two pieces of writing(one by Assange and one by some guy named Orwell) and endlessly retweeting every criticism of The Fifth Estate, and every bit of praise for Mediastan, a documentary that’s kinder to Wikileaks.
It would be funny, were it not for the legacy that gets tarnished every time a hacktivist clicks “Retweet to followers” on a banal review of a movie. Wikileaks has been controversial from day one, but it used to publish interesting, journalistic work: the 9/11 pager intercepts, the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs and the U.S. State Department cables. Apart from being fodder for endless debates over leaks, these stories were, at the very least, newsworthy.
Absent any new material—its main source, Chelsea Manning, is serving a 35-year sentence—the site is trying to make something (i.e. news) out of nothing (i.e. ego). It has turned into a public relations firm whose only client is the website itself.
This is not for want of national security stories. Glenn Greenwald shocked journalists this week by leaving The Guardian to work for a new website, joined by Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill and backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Greenwald’s recent work on the National Security Agency’s controversial tactics has been fueled by leaks from one source, but he has been on the beat for years, and will no doubt continue to produce strong work at the new website.
While Greenwald, Poitras and Scahill break stories and dominate the national security conversation, Julian Assange will hopelessly remain in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and his acolytes will remain in front of their monitors, waiting for the next big story, not realizing that it won’t come from @wikileaks.