Earlier today, WikiLeaks tweeted a photo of an investigative journalist, Gavin MacFadyen, with no explanation or accompanying caption, and the tweet immediately began fueling Internet conspiracy theories. The tweet just featured a picture of the investigative journalist with no caption and no explanation. WikiLeaks later pinned the tweet. Why did WikiLeaks tweet this photo? It was later revealed that MacFadyen had passed away.
Here’s what you need to know.
MacFadyen has a long history as a journalist who’s friendly to WikiLeaks. He was the director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London, an adviser to The Whistler, and focused much of his work on discussing and protecting whistleblowing activities. He even created the Julian Assange Defence Committee to raise funds to help pay for Assange’s legal expenses.
WikiLeaks had been releasing a series of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Just this past week, Julian Assange’s Internet connection was cut, leading to speculation as to whether Assange is even still at the embassy. These rumors and conspiracy theories, combined with other rumors about WikiLeaks’ Twitter account itself, led to a lot of questioning about why WikiLeaks tweeted MacFadyen’s photo without an explanation.
It was later revealed that MacFadyen had passed away.
After its initial tweet, WikiLeaks tweeted more messages, not related to MacFadyen, without any explanation of the pinned tweet. Around the same time that the tweet was released, an edit was made by an anonymous person to MacFadyen’s Wikipedia page and then quickly deleted:
The edit said that MacFadyen had died in London on October 22 after a short illness. However, the edit was quickly taken off Wikipedia. Later, it was revealed that this initial edit was accurate. Wikipedia has not yet updated its entry, but a tweet from CIJ, shown above, confirmed that he had passed away.
A few additional tweets over the last couple days had hinted that MacFadyen may have been dealing with something difficult in his life:
The responses on Twitter to WikiLeaks’ tweet expressed initial confusion, followed by support for WikiLeaks and MacFadyen: