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#WikiLeaks: Impact on Social Media and Global Organizations

The WikiLeaks saga has initiated many debates over the past month. Governments around the world are now putting extra security measures in place to protect confidential diplomatic information. Online audiences around the world have quickly gained interest in this scandal, and have eagerly used social media to share and debate their opinions. The uproar created by the leaked documents has reiterated the critical importance of social media tracking by governments, brands and individuals. The Brand Monitor™ team at Position² has analyzed online conversations about WikiLeaks to gauge the sentiment and impact across various social media channels.

Impact on Social Media

The uproar over WikiLeaks peaked over the first two weeks of December 2010, as governments and organizations around the world stepped up actions to muzzle the release of more secret diplomatic cables. Global participation in the debate via social media platforms spread the news quickly, which further snowballed into a deluge of commentary.

The Brand Monitor™ team at Position² analyzed the social media buzz around the Wikileaks coverage and found that:

  • WikiLeaks mentions across the web from November 15 to December 15 2010 consisted of 326,114 blog mentions, 282,880 news mentions, and 308,862 forum postings. The volume is much larger compared to six months ago. From 15 January 2010 to June 15 2010, there were only 18,887 blog mentions, 5,925 news mentions, and 42,166 forum postings. That's a 1627% increase in blog coverage, 4674% increase in news and 632% increase in forum discussions!

Social Media Conversation Increase - in Percentage

  • The number of tweets over the same period grew from 148,095 tweets to over 2.3 million tweets - a 1453% increase in volume.
  • The WikiLeaks article on Wikipedia website was viewed 1.7 million times in November 2010.
  • WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange ranked 2nd among the top personalities on Twitter, blogs, news and forums.

Twitter Famous Personalities

  • Nearly a quarter (24.7%) of the social media discussions came from the United States, with the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany each contributing to around 6% of the conversation.
  • The WikiLeaks page on Facebook showed an increase in the number of fans by 800% in just ten days. Between November 28, 2010 (the day WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables were released) and December 9, 2010 the fan base leaped to approx. 1.2 million fans and continues to grow.

Facebook Fans Growth

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Companies like Amazon, PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard also reacted to the WikiLeaks scandal by shutting down services such as website hosting and payment gateways provided to WikiLeaks. The reaction to the retraction of these services also created another round of debates. These companies were accused of relenting to government pressure. Consequently, some hackers decided to retaliate by attempting DDoS attacks on the websites of these companies.

The Impact on Global Organizations

  • After PayPal permanently restricted WikiLeaks' account, the negative sentiment on blogs grew, with 47% of global blogs accusing PayPal of relenting to government pressure. Only 18% of blogs had positive mentions, while a large number of them (35%) remained neutral. Readers may recall that PayPal had temporarily suspended WikiLeaks' account in January this year when the US and Australia had put the organization on their watch lists.
  • On December 2 when Amazon stopped hosting WikiLeaks' website, the hacker group 'Anonymous' attempted a DDoS attack against the organization. However, due to the low impact of these attacks, the group quickly abandoned the effort. This seemed to work in Amazon's favor, suggesting that Amazon provides very reliable cloud services. Conversely, the sentiment regarding Amazon remained negative on more than half (51%) of the blogs, as opposed to 15% positive; approximately 34% of blogs remained neutral on the issue.
  • Twitter was accused of censoring WikiLeaks since the topic did not appear on the Twitter Trends list in spite of its growing popularity. Twitter quickly took defensive action against the negative mentions and reiterated that it was not blocking terms like #WikiLeaks or #Cablegate from its trending terms, stressing the fact that phrases or words that show up on the list are not necessarily those that are mentioned most often. Evidently, WikiLeaks was #7 among the top news events discussed during 2010 on Twitter.
  • MasterCard and Visa were the next among the string of US-based companies to come under DDoS attacks by 'Anonymous' after both the companies froze WikiLeaks accounts. Even though there were approximately 13,000 blogs discussing the DDoS attacks on Visa and MasterCard, nearly half (46%) of them carried a negative tone for the two organizations. Only 17% of the blogs supported Visa and MasterCard, and a large chunk (37%) preferred to stay neutral.
  • Globally, human rights organizations have condemned the attacks on WikiLeaks, citing the importance of freedom of expression online.
  • Julian Assange was voted #1 on TIME magazine's "2010 Person of the Year" online poll. The magazine decided to choose FaceBook founder Mark Zuckerberg instead as the 2010 Person of the Year, who came in at #10 on the online poll.

Closing Notes

The WikiLeaks controversy is far from over; debate on the impact, content and politics will continue on social media for years to come. History is still in the process of being written. Leaks have happened in the past, but now the ability to disseminate information has become much easier through the internet and social media in particular. The rapid growth in volumes of discussion and debate online on the topic has also been fueled by the proliferation and easy access of social media.

For businesses, monitoring social media has another advantage: they can react and respond to crises that affect their corporate brand in real-time, armed with information on sentiment across channels.

December 20, 2010
By Team Position²