WikiLeaks Implements Paywall, Anonymous Does Not Approve

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As WikiLeaks ramps up for its first document dump in months, there's a very noticeable difference in the workflow of the champions of free information. It's not exactly free any more.

Early Wednesday evening, WikiLeaks teased their "GI Files Presidential Campaign Release" with characteristic urgency. The whistleblower organization claims to have "over 200,000 Global Intelligence Files (GI Files) relating to the U.S. presidential elections" and says it "will release thousands of emails referring to Obama, Biden, Romney and the Republican and Democratic parties." Some of the documents are already up on the site.

The only problem is when you go to actually view the leaked information, you're met with a cartoonish pop-up with parody video of Barack Obama's stump speech in the middle and colorful graphics of credit cards surrounding it. "In this election, vote with your wallet," reads the message at the top. "Vote WikiLeaks." On the bottom is a row of radio buttons that invite your to make $15, $25, $50 and $100 donations as well as a share button and link to their gift shop. There's no way to get past the pop-up and access the documents without disabling JavaScript in your browser. We tried to access several documents, however, and after a number of tries, the pop-up no longer appeared.

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Anonymous did not react positively to this new so-called "paywall." In a flurry of angry tweets, the hacktivist collective scolded WikiLeaks for their "moneywhoring" and called the fundraising effort "fishy, wrong, outrageous and WTF." WikiLeaks responded on Twitter, saying that a "tweet, share, wait or donate campaign is not a 'paywall'." They call it a "blockade" and directed people to their donations page. 

On one hand, you can't be too mad at WikiLeaks. They really need the money. The organization says it's been cash strapped for quite a while now, and with their fearless leader Julian Assange holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, they're somewhat adrift. On the other hand, restricting access to the information the organization has worked so hard to make free just doesn't make sense. It's like going to a free movie screening in the park only to be asked to buy tickets after the previews finish. 

It's unclear how long this paywall project is going to last, but one thing is for sure: They should probably make nice with Anonymous. Anonymous is a lot of things. A friendly enemy they are not.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.