WikiLeaks Brand Blows Up

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One blog, in a reference to TIME’s Person of the Year, is already calling him Man of the Year — at least, that’s how Death and Taxes is hailing Julian Assange.

If there were any doubt about the rising brand that is Assange and his whistleblowing site, Google search results (after the jump) show the off-the-chart spike in searches for WikiLeaks, the #1 search term in the US and around the globe since the explosive release of classified US Embassy cables that started on Nov. 28.

Despite pressure by the US government and others to silence WikiLeaks, since the week (Nov. 28-Dec. 5) following the release of the official US cables, “Wikileaks” has remained the top search term in the US, as measured by Google Insights. With founder Julian Assange’s arrest today in the UK, Google’s chart may need to go up to 11.[more]

In terms of “brand awareness,” it certainly helps that WikiLeaks has been prominent in chatter on Twitter and Facebook, on the blogosphere and a continuing hot topic in the mainstream media, including on the homepage of news publications, online and in print, since the cables’ release.

The media-savvy Assange, who spruced up his image before his arrest, has sparked a global goosechase and pandemonium not seen since The Beatles had a hard day’s night. Some call him terrorist; others, a hero. Either way, the embattled website and its founder are firmly established, even as the future of both remains up in the air.

Officials and reporters have been scrambling to track down Assange since the first batch from the site’s 250,000 US cables leaks blew up the web on Nov. 28. The Australian hacker-turned-whistleblower (who defends himself in The Australian newspaper today) had already gone underground at that point, fearful of being extradited to face sex-related accusations in Switzerland.

One indicator of his notoriety: there are 6,859 articles about WikiLeaks and Assange’s arrest on the Google News homepage at the moment. President Obama’s press conference on tax cuts? 4,669.

While the WikiLeaks organization is in disarray with its leader behind bars (but vows, “We will not be gagged”), there’s a strong chance that Assange will be named TIME’s person of the year — he’s still a candidate in the official poll, where his influence is scored by fans at 91 out of a possible 100.

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