Rumors of Julian Assange’s death began circulating social media yesterday when three mysterious tweets emerged from the WikiLeaks Twitter account. The tweets contained vague references, and each one had a unique 64-digit code attached to it.
Shortly after the posts emerged, speculation began on what the tweets meant. A prevalent rumor was that the tweets were a sort of digital “dead man’s switch.”
A dead man’s switch is a device that activates when certain requirements are not met. In the most mundane sense of the term, it is used in machinery as a deactivation mechanism if the operator becomes incapacitated. In other words, it’s a safety feature to prevent injury or accident. More ominous examples have been used in various action movies in one form or another. The hostage taker holding down a switch or lever that if released will detonate a bomb has become a Hollywood cliché.
However, the switch does not have to be a physical device. For example, a computer program can be coded to activate when certain conditions are not met such as logging into the software by a certain time of day. It can also be something as simple as giving a trusted friend a sealed and addressed envelope with instructions to mail it in the event of death. So the tweets were thought to be a signal that Assange was dead and that the 349-gigabyte “insurance file” that WikiLeaks has will be released, according to Gizmodo.
With so little information to go on, the tweets were wide open to speculation, and the death of Julian Assange seemed to be a prevailing theory. It started with comments to the original tweets, but some sensationalistic news outlets ran with the idea, going so far as to fabricate stories or headlines just to score views.
For example, the Conservative Daily Post ran a headline just this morning that read, “Breaking: Julian Assange Dead, Ecuadorean [sic] Embassy Raided Minutes Ago.”
The problem with the headline is there is no truth to either assertion that the headline makes. A raid on the Ecuadorean embassy would have been the top running network news story the moment it happened, yet all is quite on the major news outlets. Furthermore, the article does not even mention anything about a raid in the body of the story. The CDP article is only one example of many that have jumped to conclusions or just ran with sensational headlines and reported the rumors as either fact or as the “latest information.”
Despite all the reports to the contrary, it seems that the rumors of Julian Assange’s death have been completely unfounded and that he “is very much alive.” Gizmodo published an article yesterday covering the rumors and speculation. It did not postulate that he was dead. On the contrary, it pointed out that the 64-character codes were in all likelihood hash codes to verify that a document yet to be released has not been altered.
“Much as these tweets provide great fodder for conspiracy speculation, the secret to their meaning is hidden in plain sight. “Pre-commitment” in this case is a references to a cryptographic scheme to prevent unreleased information from being tampered with. Essentially those unique codes are proof to anyone reading the documents in the future that their contents remain unchanged: alteration to the leaks will likewise alter those 64-character codes.”
WikiLeaks is preparing to leak some texts, and it is pre-releasing the hash codes so that the leak can be checked for authenticity. According to Gizmodo, it is nothing new. The same technique was employed in the past by people such as Tor Project developer Andrea Shepard and by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Gizmodo contacted WikiLeaks for comment but had not heard back from representatives by the time the article was published. However, this morning a WikiLeaks volunteer Kelly Kolisnik confirmed that Assange is not dead, even going as far as to post a selfie taken with Julian.
When a Twitter user posted that he had gone to the embassy to check on Assange but was turned away, Kolisnik replied, “You can’t go in without an appointment. Julian is confirmed to be perfectly fine. Thanks for your support and for checking.”
It appears that despite claims, rumors, and reports, Julian Assange is not dead. This news is unfortunate for some who have things that they would rather stay hidden. The only question that remains is, what are these new leaks regarding John Kerry, Ecuador, and the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office? WikiLeaks has not mentioned a time for the release of this new information, but it is sure to come out soon.
[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]