TwitterGate: Out Damned Spot!
For all the noisy hubbub over should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-publish confidential documents hacked from password-protected accounts of Twitter employees, as well as a Twitter spouse, it is actually pretty simple.
Stolen equals stolen.
But, because this is a “hot” issue and it concerns an even hotter Web 2.0 company–Holy traffic-gooser, Batman!–the debate will surely go on and on, even as the stolen information inevitably leaks its way out.
Still, let’s not pretend what it is and is not.
It is most definitely not, for example, one of those great dramatic moments in journalism.
Thus, comparing the ruminations over whether to publish egregiously obtained information–however true–to the debate over a major event like the New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers is pathetic.
It is, though, a tempest in a Silicon Valley teapot.
In point of fact, my colleague Peter Kafka, who works from New York, wrote me tonight:
“Was at a fancy schmooze tonight packed with digital media bigwigs: Viacom, NBC, News Corp, plus lots of start-up guys. TwitterGate was on *no one’s* lips. I talked to one guy who has a stake in the company and he pretty much shrugged about it–several people had no idea about it at all. Total non-news.”
It is not, however self-righteously (and pompously) put forth, much of a dilemma.
As the very clever John Gruber of Daring Fireball put it: “What you may ask, is the dilemma, since it is clear that any decent human being would simply refuse to have anything to do with something so lurid?”
Indeed, it is unequivocally wrong to publish documents you know or think were stolen or hacked, because it is aiding and abetting that theft.
In this regard, then, there should be no difference between “Web” journalism and the old-fashioned journalism–acting as if the former gets a “process journalism” (what a crock!) pass at standards and ethics that should be eternal and unwavering, no matter the medium.
And it is a little like pitting “gay” marriage against marriage, in order to create a false dichotomy, designed only to obfuscate the issues.
So, it also isn’t kosher to try to take focus of your own wrongdoing by pointing to other practices, which is almost always an obnoxious reach by the willfully immature.
While comparisons to leaked company documents have been made–and BoomTown knows from leaked corporate memos–this is a lazy-man’s argument, since it simply does not track.
The Twitter docs were stolen from personal accounts, an obvious pilfer, which immediately changes the equation completely.
While you certainly can have a lively debate about whether Yahoos should pass along some widely distributed memo that CEO Carol Bartz penned to the company, it is not even close to the same thing.
And, more to the point, if someone sent me emails jacked from Bartz’s own email account, I would not need even a second to know I would never use such information.
As I tweeted earlier today: A credible source a reporter knows giving accurate info is clearly different from a thief rifling through someone’s sock drawer.
That is especially true when you use material from a person you do not know. For the record: When I post a company memo, for example, I know and check out exactly who’s giving it to me and I don’t publish stuff just because it happens to land in my email box.
And, a minor beef, blaming victims for the theft by saying they have weak or inadequate passwords is also pathetic. It’s kind of like blaming people for being robbed because they had crappy locks.
I suppose there is a point in there, but the real finger of blame should always be firmly pointed at the burglar and those who fence his nicked goods.
That brings me to my final point–thinking you can handle dirty material and then act as if your hands are clean.
How hands get dirty is a concept even my children understand.
And if my kids ever said: “Hey, this stolen stuff is going to get out anyway, so let me be the one to ladle it out as I see fit”–I’d ground them for life.