Tuesday morning, WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange hosted a Reddit AMA. It was a surprise reappearance by an elusive and highly controversial public figure. He answered questions via a live Twitch stream — although “answered” might be putting it a little strongly. The most upvoted comments on the AMA included substantive and pertinent questions, but Assange either avoided most of them or responded evasively.
One user drew a contrast between Assange and Edward Snowden, the latter of whom they said was acting to preserve privacy, whereas Assange was advocating for a privacy-free future. They asked Assange to explain why his is the correct approach. In response, Assange chose to talk about his own role in helping Snowden find asylum, as well as the importance of whistleblowers generally. He did not substantively address the philosophical differences that the Redditor pointed out.
Another Redditor speculated that Assange was no longer in control of WikiLeaks and expressed a rather conspiratorial concern about Assange’s personal well-being. Redditors were not convinced by the end of the AMA that Assange has retained control of the WikiLeaks organization, citing the fact that he failed to send and sign a message using the WikiLeaks PGP key, which theoretically only he would have. Others asked Assange to do things like cite something from yesterday’s news or read a nonce code to verify that it was really a live video. He used a current Bitcoin blockchain hash as proof that the interview wasn’t prerecorded.
Also in the top comments was a question about possible WikiLeaks ties to Russia, something many Americans are asking in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. He took those inquiries regarding Russia head on, as assertions about those ties have escalated as of late. He denied any affiliation, but made a point of steering his answer away from the 2016 election and the DNC hacks, which U.S. intelligence is certain originated in Russia. Instead, Assange pointed out that everything WikiLeaks posts has been found to be “100 percent accurate.” He noted that Wikileaks has also posted information that hurt Putin and the Russian government, and presented it as evidence that there was no collusion.
Many weren’t buying his responses when it came to possible involvement with Russia. One user wrote, “Since you are so adamant that Russia was not involved in the recent leaks that played a major role in the US presidential election, it would be helpful if you can make a compelling case for why Americans should trust you over their own intelligence agencies whose reason for existence is to defend the US against foreign threats and who are saying the opposite about Russian involvement.”
There were those who rushed to Assange’s defense — their feelings about his work unchanged by others’ skepticism in the AMA.
Overall, the attitude at the conclusion of the AMA seemed to be disappointment. People who had been hoping for in-depth discussion and clarification on a number of issues were in reality treated to what one Redditor described as a “video interview.” Perhaps Assange thought the AMA would be a good opportunity for non-confrontational publicity and was never expecting the kinds of questions he received. People can decide for themselves by watching the archived stream here.