TechCrunch Ethics And The Twitter Leaks

Last night, TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington revealed that he had received hundreds of documents about Twitter sent by someone who had hacked into the company’s system. Arrington said he planned to post some documents related to Twitter’s business. This set off a firestorm of debate about the ethics. With Arrington posting a follow up to his original post here.

I was truly amazed at the overwhelmingly negative feedback from the TechCrunch community about his decision.

I posted my own thoughts in the comment section, which I’m re-posting here:

I’m amazed at the harsh tone here. First of all, bravo for having this conversation in public before publishing. Though I’m guessing TC has considered the legal ramifications, my understanding is that the liability lies with whoever stole the docs, not someone who publishes them, unless TC instigated the theft. I’m guessing the answer to that is, “No.”

Beyond that, publishing such leaked memos or documents is hardly unusual or extreme. (See the Pentagon Papers). Of course, this is hardly a matter of national security. But as Arrington references, the “peanut butter memo” is just one of about a million such instances of leaked internal documents being posted. Just check out All Things Digital to see a pretty steady stream of leaked internal emails from Yahoo execs.

Protecting the privacy of third parties such as job interviewees, is the right thing to do. Such info could potentially destroy their careers. No reason to involve them unless there was a figure of significance (i.e., if it turned out Eric Schmidt had interviewed to be Twitter CEO).

The real question then is this: Is the information of news value? I would say given Twitter’s explosive growth, and it’s growing role in news and information, anything that speaks to its business model and strategic plans has high news value.

If you disagree, that’s understandable. But try this: Stop reading leaks about new Apple products, or Google features, or whatever gadget or online service you follow. These things are all regularly the result of such leaked documents.

As long as reasonable steps are being taken to protect innocent parties, and not endangering anyone, then publishing is reasonable.

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