On 10 November, WikiLeaks staffers took to Reddit to answer questions from the 'front page of the internet' – and it didn't really go as planned. The whistleblowing organisation faced a harsh grilling about alleged Russian links, allegiances with Donald Trump and increasingly evasive responses.
Staffers, whose identities (or identity) were never revealed, didn't stay long and largely ignored critical allegations that WikiLeaks influenced the US presidential election. Julian Assange, the group's founder, was absent from proceedings, as he remains without an internet connection.
The online question-and-answer session – dubbed 'Ask Me Anything' – comes after WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of hacked emails from both the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the personal inbox of close Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta.
If the WikiLeaks personnel running the AMA believed they would receive a warm welcome, they were mistaken. As one commenter noted: "This AMA is making you guys look really bad. WikiLeaks is starting to seem like the kind of organisations you claim to fight against."
The session highlighted key contradictions in WikiLeaks: It claims to not censor yet schedules content for "maximum impact". It denies Kremlin-linked hackers were the source of the Podesta files, yet claims it doesn't know the identity of sources. It denies favouring Trump but sells anti-Clinton merchandise on its website.
WikiLeaks faced mounting questions about its links with Russia and the Kremlin. "The allegations that we have colluded with Trump, or any other candidate for that matter, or with Russia, are just groundless and false," the WikiLeaks staff claimed, less than 24 hours after a Russian analyst teased the Kremlin may have "helped a bit" with the US election leaks.
They continued: "We receive information anonymously, through an anonymous submission platform. We do not need to know the identity of the source, neither do we want to know it. The intention of the source is irrelevant in our editorial process."
The staff, which did reportedly include WikiLeaks' researcher Sarah Harrison, denied it published documents with the aim of electing a specific candidate. "We were publishing with the one goal of making the elections as transparent as possible," they said. "We published what we received."
It was that last line that was oft-repeated – much to the anger of the mounting Redditors who slammed WikiLeaks for an alleged pro-Trump slant. During the run-up to the election, Assange notably said he believed that Trump – now President-elect Trump – would "not be allowed" to win.
"Why do you only seem to have information on Democrats?" one user questioned. WikiLeaks replied: "To date, we have not received information on Donald Trump's campaign, or other campaigns. If it were to be submitted now we would happily publish it."
However, as pointed out by numerous people, Assange himself previously indicated that WikiLeaks was indeed in possession of information on Trump, but said that it paled in comparison to the statements he was routinely making publicly on the campaign trail.
The staff were asked about the current state of Assange, who himself became the focus of a conspiracy theory earlier this year that claimed he had been kidnapped or killed. The team said the government of Ecuador, which gave him political asylum in 2012, was still restricting access to the web.
"His internet hasn't been turned back on, despite the elections being over, and we don't know why, though it was meant to just be turned off over the elections," WikiLeaks said, adding that he could now only communicate in person or via phonecall.
"Are there any things that you wouldn't condone leaking?" one person asked. WikiLeaks replied, saying it has "an editorial policy to publish only information that we have validated as true and that is important to the political, diplomatic or historical". It added: "We believe in transparency for the powerful and privacy for the rest."
While undoubtedly a good soundbite, many on Reddit were unimpressed. "So you get to decide what is important for the political, diplomatic, or historical. That's curation. That's censorship. Just publishing 'uncensored' documents doesn't make you transparent," rebuked one commenter.
He or she continued: "You claim to be dedicated to transparency, yet offer none of your own. It's also curation to release documents without context, as you so often do. Government communications are complicated, dense, and generally boring to read."
After 31 answers, the staffers were done. "Thanks guys that was great. We need to get back to work now," they wrote. At the time of writing, there are over 14,500 submitted questions.
The entire AMA session can be read in full here.