WikiLeaks tweeted Friday that it wanted to build a database of information about Twitter’s verified users, including personal relationships that might have influence on their lives.
Then, after a number of users sounded the alarm on what they perceived to be a massive doxxing effort, WikiLeaks deleted the tweet, but not before blaming that perception on the “dishonest press.”
In a subsequent series of tweets on Friday, WikiLeaks Task Force — a verified Twitter account described in its bio as the “Official @WikiLeaks support account” — explained that it wanted to look at the “family/job/financial/housing relationships” of Twitter’s verified users, which includes a ton of journalists, politicians and activists.
The point, the WikiLeaks account claims, is to “develop a metric to understand influence networks based on proximity graphs.” That’s a pretty confusing explanation, and the comment left a number of concerned Twitter users scratching their collective heads and wondering just how invasive this database might be.
The “task force” attempted to clarify what it meant in a number of subsequent tweets, and it sounds like the database is an attempt to understand who or what might be influencing Twitter’s verified users. Imagine identifying relationships like political party affiliation, for example, though it’s unclear if the database would include both online and offline relationships users have. (We tweeted at WikiLeaks and will update if we hear back.)
WikiLeaks mentioned an artificial intelligence software program that it would use to help compile the database and suggested it might be akin to the social graphs that Facebook and LinkedIn have created.
It was all rather vague, which didn’t help with user concern on Twitter. But WikiLeaks claims the proposed database is not about releasing personal info, like home addresses.
Dishonest press reporting our speculative idea for database of account influencing *relationships* with WikiLeaks doxing home addresses.— WikiLeaks Task Force (@WLTaskForce) January 6, 2017
.@DaleInnis @kevincollier As we stated the idea is to look at the network of *relationships* that influence -- not to publish addresses.— WikiLeaks Task Force (@WLTaskForce) January 6, 2017
Still, it was an unsettling proclamation for many on Twitter, and followed just a few days after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Fox News that American media coverage is “very dishonest.” It’s a descriptor President-elect Donald Trump famously uses, too.
It seems possible that the point of looking into verified Twitter users — many of whom are journalists — is so that WikiLeaks can rein in the “dishonest media.”
What could be interesting, though, is that building a database would also mean looking into the relationships influencing Trump, who is also verified on Twitter.
Some of those relationships are already publicly known. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has reported that more than 150 institutions hold Trump’s business debts. But many journalists and politicians have complained of lack of transparency from Trump, like his failure to release his tax returns. These critics may welcome a closer look at the powers influencing the next Commander in Chief.
Even if WikiLeaks were to move forward with this database, it seems like it would have to store the project off of Twitter. The social communications company tweeted out a statement shortly after the original WikiLeaks tweet: “Posting another person’s private and confidential information is a violation of the Twitter Rules.”
Posting another person’s private and confidential information is a violation of the Twitter Rules: https://t.co/NGx5hh2tTQ— Safety (@safety) January 6, 2017
Twitter has already said that it will not allow anyone, including government agencies, to use its services to create surveillance databases and has a policy against posting another person’s private information on the service.
It’s unclear if WikiLeaks could even promote the project on Twitter without its accounts getting suspended. The social network previously suspended another user, Guccifer 2.0, after publishing personal information about congress members on a third-party website and then promoting it on Twitter.
Wikileaks “Task Force” has deleted their creepy threatening tweet about doxing verified Twitter users. pic.twitter.com/VdJkrAvKoY— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) January 7, 2017
Additional reporting by Tess Townsend.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.