Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

WikiLeaks’ Sensationalized Press Release and Rushed Reporting Created Misleading Stories

Zeynep Tufekci, in an op-ed for the New York Times:

WikiLeaks seems to have a playbook for its disinformation campaigns. The first step is to dump many documents at once — rather than allowing journalists to scrutinize them and absorb their significance before publication. The second step is to sensationalize the material with misleading news releases and tweets. The third step is to sit back and watch as the news media unwittingly promotes the WikiLeaks agenda under the auspices of independent reporting.

The media, to its credit, eventually sorts things out — as it has belatedly started to do with the supposed C.I.A. cache. But by then, the initial burst of misinformation has spread. On social media in particular, the spin and distortion continues unabated. This time around, for example, there are widespread claims on social media that these leaked documents show that it was the C.I.A. that hacked the Democratic National Committee, and that it framed Russia for the hack. (The documents in the cache reveal nothing of the sort.)

WikiLeaks’ tactics put reporters in a tough spot. If they don’t have a story ready after a major information dump like this one, their editors won’t be happy. But those reporters can’t trust WikiLeaks’ accompanying press release, either, because it doesn’t always accurately describe the contents of the leak.

A more accurate angle for reporters might be to write about the leak itself, not the specific claims made in the press release. Not every publication will do that, of course — many of the more conspiracy-oriented “news” websites and Twitter users are already claiming that these documents prove that the CIA was responsible for Buzzfeed reporter Mike Hastings’ death. This is, of course, completely unsubstantiated.