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WikiLeaks is winning over Gamergate with a confusing Twitter campaign

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Gaming's culture wars are getting even more surreal

It's far from an organized protest movement, but Gamergate — which ostensibly opposes unethical journalism and "social justice warriors" in video games — has managed to launch an undeniably political internet culture war. Its most outspoken celebrity supporters are associated with conservative politics, from Firefly and Full Metal Jacket star Adam Baldwin to Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. But they're both dwarfed by a somewhat more surprising group: WikiLeaks, which has spent the past week exhorting Gamergate to look at media corruption that goes "all the way to the top."

WikiLeaks' involvement in Gamergate dates back to mid-September, when founder Julian Assange participated in a Q&A session on Reddit to promote his latest book. Amidst questions about surveillance, terrorism, and Google's corporate power, one site user asked for his opinion on the removal of Gamergate-related comments on Reddit. "It's pathetic," Assange responded. "But censorship by companies controlling privatized political space is now almost a norm." Then, a connection was forged. The user, it turned out, had been "shadowbanned" by administrators, hiding their posts from other users. Reddit's admins soon said this had nothing to do with the question. In fact, moderators had approved it in spite of the ban (though the user said he had been banned for upvoting something Gamergate-related, which Reddit could not confirm with us.) But the meme didn't die: an anti-corruption movement had been silenced for speaking to a controversial figure with a known disdain for the press.

After the AMA, WikiLeaks' Twitter account officially came out in support of Gamergate... and promptly told its members to "level up" and look for problems outside gaming. "#GamerGate'ers should know that the pattern of censorship & cronyism they see is mirrored at the very top," it said alongside a link to a set of leaked diplomatic cables.

"Calls to assassinate #Assange? Just fine with #GamerGate's "SJW"'s."

For the next few weeks, WikiLeaks seems to have been silent, as Gamergate slowly festered within the enthusiast press. But in mid-October, two violent, credible threats put it on the mainstream radar. Developer Brianna Wu and her husband left home after receiving threats that appeared linked to Gamergate, making her the third woman since August to have done so. Wu's story got broad news coverage from outlets like the BBC, and soon after, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian canceled a talk at Utah State University due to threats of a mass bombing and shooting. According to Twitter searches, that's about when WikiLeaks decided to rejoin the fray. "So you found out your media is corrupt. It is. Now go all the way to the top," it wrote on October 14th, linking to a recent Pando Daily interview with Assange.

Linking Gamergate, whose major grievances include games journalists contributing to crowdfunding campaigns and reviewers dinging games for sexist character design, to coverage of one of the biggest document leaks of the young century is a bit of a stretch. But it's maybe the most plausible of WikiLeaks' assertions. Its next tweet warned that "corrupt journalism has led to the deaths of millions," linking to a video where journalist John Pilger eviscerates his industry for publishing false reports about Hiroshima and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Over the past day, though, it's focused on accusing media outlets of hypocrisy for covering death threats against Sarkeesian in 2014 but not Assange in 2010. "Calls to assassinate #Assange? Just fine with #GamerGate's "SJW"'s," said one tweet, which has been retweeted nearly 600 times.

This tweet was, to be clear, extremely confusing. It linked to a 2010 pro-assassination piece by the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper that no one would describe as harboring social justice warriors. The other link was to a video called "Assassinating Assange," a supercut of politicians and pundits condemning Assange — from people calling for his actual death to what could probably be described more accurately as "character assassination." WikiLeaks clarified that it was trying to attack "pseudo 'liberal' papers" like the New York Times, which published a front-page story on Sarkeesian. "Lame anonymous tweet threats? An outrage. Broadcast assassination demands from senior figures? Just fine." Continuing in the social justice warrior vein, it said that "#Sweden's government funded "SJW"'s" and linked to a YouTube video in which young "radical feminist" women stage a Valerie Solanas-inspired assassination of a man. While this video stirred up controversy on men's rights blogs in 2011, it's not immediately clear why it's supposed to be "government funded," except that Assange is facing arrest in Sweden for alleged sexual assault.

"'Gamergate' is not interesting."

If you hadn't already guessed, WikiLeaks isn't particularly concerned with video games. "'Gamergate' is not interesting," it said when I asked about its views on the movement. "That highly apolitical youth suddenly awaken to broader censorship, media ownership is." More cynically, Assange's book came out last month, and Gamergate supporters and antagonists alike are checking the hashtag zealously. This is the best marketing opportunity anyone could hope for.

So how are members of Gamergate receiving it? "This is beautiful," wrote a Redditor who posted it to Kotaku In Action. "Wonder how they'll explain this one. 'Fighting for global freedom of information is now misogynistic!'" said another. But as with everything in Gamergate, not everyone was on board. "Can someone explain to me what these calls for assassination have to do with SJWs or GG?" one person asked. Someone else pointed out that the wording made it sound like social justice warriors inside Gamergate wanted to assassinate Assange. "This is the most tenuous link to GamerGate and 'SJWs' I've seen yet," said another commenter. "The threat image that Assange links to comes from a small conservative paper writing in 2010. No link to games, feminism or even corruption."

As of this writing, WikiLeaks has not yet issued a statement on whether or not gamers are dead.