TechCrunch and Twitter: Where are the ethics?

Should documents from hacked Twitter-related online accounts be published?

The News of the World is in a bit of trouble, it seems: it's been caught doing the digital equivalent of going through people's dustbins in the hope of finding dirt about celebrities and politicians. The police are investigating, parliament is investigating, and everybody's appalled.

It's yet another example of the mainstream media - MSM, as bloggers call it - crossing the line. Bad MSM! You wouldn't catch bloggers doing that kind of stuff.

So why is TechCrunch going through Twitter's digital bins? If you haven't been following the story, somebody hacked into various Twitter-related online accounts, grabbed a whole bunch of private documents and gave them to TechCrunch. With a heavy heart, TechCrunch is going to publish them.

It's not TechCrunch's fault. "It's not our fault," the site's Michael Arrington says. "It's not our fault that Google has a ridiculously easy way to get access to accounts via their password recovery question. It's not our fault that Twitter stored all of these documents and sensitive information in the cloud… I feel bad for Twitter and I wish this had never happened. But it did happen and the documents are out there, and they are going to be published somewhere on the Internet."

It's the Goldilocks defence. "It's not my fault," Goldilocks said. "It's not my fault that porridge is so tasty. It's not my fault that the bears live in a house whose ground floor windows are easy to climb up to. It's not my fault that the bears left their tasty, tasty porridge on a table where anybody passing by could see it. I feel bad for the bears and I wish this had never happened. But it did happen, and the porridge was there, and somebody was going to come along and eat it."

Not a one-off

This sort of thing is not a one-off. While bloggers frequently describe the mainstream media as monsters - often rightly - blogs too will cheerfully throw ethics out of the window if it means more hits.

Breaking non-disclosure agreements so you can be the first site to publish screenshots? No problem. Reporting single-source, unverifiable and entirely made-up reports that Steve Jobs is dead? Sure. Publishing private documents that somebody's hacked accounts to get hold of? Absolutely.

At least when the News of the World goes through your bins, it doesn't post 1,000 word explanations of why it's all somebody else's fault.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.