WikiLeaks googles and republishes embassy shopping lists – media partners call it an “exclusive”

On Friday, December 21st, WikiLeaks released a collection of “shopping lists” from American embassies around the world. The release was accompanied by stories from their media partners documenting things like ““>an embassy worried a dam might break, and tried to be ready.” WikiLeaks’ media partners said that WikiLeaks had “revealed” this information, and that it was an “exclusive” for Repubblica and Der Spiegel (see update below).

However, WikiLeaks didn’t reveal the information, and none of it was an exclusive.

The 16,000 documents, as WikiLeaks admits in their press release, were publicly released by the U.S. government in real time. As WikiLeaks also concedes, the documents “can be searched via both the search function on the embassy’s website and third-party search engines,” even after the links were no longer advertised. The “exclusive” information “revealed” by WikiLeaks had not only long been published, it was already indexed by Google, in some instances more thoroughly than WikiLeaks’ database. Like more than 1/3 of WikiLeaks’ publications, this data was already public after being officially released.

In some cases a simple google search would reveal the same exact documents that WikiLeaks’ “exclusive” database revealed.

In other instances, WikiLeaks’ database appears to include less than what can be found with a simple google search.

While any release of government information is valuable, and archiving the documents is always an endeavor to be cheered, the misrepresentation of the information does a disservice to everyone involved. Over-hyping the releases, describing already public information was “WikiLeaks reveals” and referring to the information as something that is “exclusive” distorts and misframes the information. The information is welcome, but the distortion of it is inexcusable. There was nothing “exclusive” about the information and no one “reveals” anything by pointing to already public but overlooked information.

Update: After publication, Stefania Maurizi responded on Twitter to clarify the intended meaning in referring to the information as exclusive: neither the information nor the access was exclusive, however early access to WikiLeaks’ database was.

Stefania Maurizi also challenged the accessibility of the information cited in her article. The document, however, could be readily found through a google search – the inaccessibility arose from people not knowing to search those types of documents.

Her tweet in English also repeated the language describing it as an “exclusive” that was ‘revealed’ by WikiLeaks. This post is meant to criticize this framing and the associated editorial decisions, not the underlying facts or value of the information.