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Is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a workplace bully?

The workplace dynamics of WikiLeaks and the management style of founder Julian Assange are becoming better known to the public.  On October 23, the New York Times published an article that highlights an increased disillusionment with Assange and the work environment that he is creating. 

Since WikiLeaks reportedly depends on about 40 core volunteers and several hundred mostly unpaid supporters to maintain the ongoing operation of the website and its servers and infrastructure, a hostile work environment that ends up driving away supporters could prove to be especially damaging to the whistleblower site.

The following are excerpts from the New York Times article WikiLeaks Founder on the Run, Trailed by Notoriety:

Now it is not just governments that denounce him: some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood.

After the Sweden scandal, strains within WikiLeaks reached a breaking point, with some of Mr. Assange’s closest collaborators publicly defecting. The New York Times spoke with dozens of people who have worked with and supported him in Iceland, Sweden, Germany, Britain and the United States. What emerged was a picture of the founder of WikiLeaks as its prime innovator and charismatic force but as someone whose growing celebrity has been matched by an increasingly dictatorial, eccentric and capricious style.

When Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old political activist in Iceland, questioned Mr. Assange’s judgment over a number of issues in an online exchange last month, Mr. Assange was uncompromising. “I don’t like your tone,” he said, according to a transcript. “If it continues, you’re out.”

Mr. Assange cast himself as indispensable. “I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier, and all the rest,” he said. “If you have a problem with me,” he told Mr. Snorrason, using an expletive, he should quit.

In an interview about the exchange, Mr. Snorrason’s conclusion was stark. “He is not in his right mind,” he said. In London, Mr. Assange was dismissive of all those who have criticized him. “These are not consequential people,” he said.

“About a dozen” disillusioned volunteers have left recently, said Smari McCarthy, an Icelandic volunteer who has distanced himself in the recent turmoil. In late summer, Mr. Assange suspended Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German who had been the WikiLeaks spokesman under the pseudonym Daniel Schmitt, accusing him of unspecified “bad behavior.” Many more activists, Mr. McCarthy said, are likely to follow.

But if Mr. Assange is sustained by his sense of mission, faith is fading among his fellow conspirators. His mood was caught vividly in an exchange on Sept. 20 with another senior WikiLeaks figure. In an encrypted online chat, a transcript of which was passed to The Times, Mr. Assange was dismissive of his colleagues. He described them as “a confederacy of fools,” and asked his interlocutor, “Am I dealing with a complete retard?”

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Is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a workplace bully?
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