TechCrunch aren’t usually averse to courting controversy and so it has proved once again. Yesterday a mysterious hacker mailed Michael Arrington’s company offering up some invaluable information on Twitter.
Since then, TechCrunch have clearly been wrestling with the idea of how much information they should release. Arrington goes to great lengths to assure everyone that the mountain of private files and other non-business related details won’t be published, at least not by his company; however he is going to be exposing business related dealings in the coming days.
This has raised all kinds of ethical questions. Should TechCrunch really be releasing information that they were never meant to be privy to? Should they publish anything that comes from an unverified source?
Clearly this will cause huge embarrassment in Twitter HQ; and no doubt legal people will be looking for a way to gag the leading technology blog. It’s just one in a long line of ‘leaked’ stories that have managed to circulate across the Internet in seconds. The kind of story that very few newspaper editors would feel comfortable publishing.
The Internet though is an entirely different animal. TechCrunch could justifiably say that they are simply distributing this abridged information rather than allowing someone else with more malicious intentions to do the same. They’re not, on the face of it, breaking any laws either because someone freely passed them the information.
Would Mashable do the same in these circumstances? No one knows. TechCrunch haven’t distributed anything too salacious as of yet, apart from a damning post on a proposed Twitter television project. Maybe they’ve got cold feet and have decided better of it? Maybe they’re just building interest to ensure the very best online visibility for their serialised expose of the goings on at Twitter.
Many people have called into question the justification for their decision to distribute, or at least to promote the fact that they will be distributing. One of the more interesting critiques came from Charles Arthur, the Technology Editor at The Guardian. He’s been quick to attack Michael Arrington, ironically enough through Twitter itself. See below for one quick snippet of this extended dialogue.
I’m not entirely sure how they can justify distributing this data from a personal point of view. Is it in the public’s best interest to know? Is this just a case of Internet tabloid journalism, finding the most scurrilous sleaze to tarnish the credibility of a leading site. TechCrunch don’t have a vested interest in ruining Twitter, they’re in totally separate fields. However, this does look like a good opportunity for them to get back the market share they apparently lost to Mashable recently.
After asking a hypothetical question about whether or not SEO should be regulated earlier in the week – covered here in the post Is Government Regulation Really the Future for SEO? – this is looking like an increasingly negative week for Arrington and his team. I couldn’t disagree more about the aforementioned article and this could well be a publicity stunt too far. But journalists tend to be opportunists – it’s what the industry is about after all – so is this in fact too good an opportunity to pass up?
The Internet does offer greater freedom for expression, but this looks like a flagrant over-stepping of the mark. Should people be free to publish whatever they deem fit on the Internet? Is this yet another indication of the potentially damaging power that major bloggers possess? Should Twitter have been more careful with their data perhaps? What do you think? Let us know your views on this and how you would handle the security breach.