WikiLeaks Task Force doxing concerns: is Twitter verification making you a target?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Remember when I was amused by Twitter deciding that I’m not a journalist or in the media? Well, now I’m profoundly glad. Why? Well, this little Tweet from a WikiLeaks-affiliated group went out on Friday:

WikiLeaks Doxxing

Of course, many, many screenshots had been saved before it got pulled down:

why did you erase this tweet?

— Anna Masera (@annamasera) January 7, 2017

WikiLeaks itself tried to distance itself from the tweet – rather unconvincingly:

@wikileaks have you read your profile?

— Richard Lawler (@rjcc) January 7, 2017

And even the original account tried to walk it back:

Dishonest press reporting our speculative idea for database of account influencing relationships with WikiLeaks doxing home addresses.

— WikiLeaks Task Force (@WLTaskForce) January 6, 2017

That’s a rather disingenuous reply, because the original tweet specified “family/job/financial/housing relationships” (emphasis mine). To track housing relationships, you need to track addresses. And for an organisation as committed to releasing information as WikiLeaks and its supporters have become – that inevitable raises the spectre of doxing – the politically-motivated release of personal information about people.

Inevitably many of my journalist friends on Facebook – the verified ones working on mainstream national publications that is – were nervous about this, mainly because of the mention of family. Most mainstream journalist accept that there is an element of risk in their work – but bringing families into it is frankly sinister.

Here’s a thought: has the little “verified” tick, originally intended to increase trust in Twitter, by making it harder for people to be fooled by fake and imposter accounts, actually proving counter-productive? It makes a really handy target marker for those perceived as “important” – and in these populist times, that makes them targets…

ethicsJournalismsecuritySocial MediaX (Twitter)verificationverified userswikileaks

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.