The backstory – some hacker broke into some Twitter employee’s email, grabbed a bunch of docs, and sent them to some bloggers. This guy is clearly a grade-A jerk, no debate there.
Lots of juicy tidbits in the emails, ranging from personal stuff to revenue forecasts. Now since these were stolen it’s pretty obvious the guys at Twitter didn’t want them out in the open. This of course didn’t matter to a variety of “news-breaking” bloggers, who just “couldn’t resist” putting them up while throwing up a series of rationales like “if we didn’t, someone else would’ve.”
Actually, no, they wouldn’t necessarily have unless y’all didn’t pave the way. You just got caught playing a classic little prisoner’s dilemma game, and you all failed, head directly to jail, do not pass go. Here’s the visualization for you…
The Prisoner’s Dilemma of Being Ethical in the News-Breaking Blogging Industry
|Blogger B respects privacy||Blogger B endorses theft|
|Blogger A respects privacy||Bloggers contribute to culture with high standards||Blogger A gets scoop, traffic spike, short term revenue through ads, no long term benefits
Blogger B holds head high, but probably rues the day
|Blogger A endorses theft||Blogger B gets scoop, traffic spike, short term revenue through ads, no long term benefits
Blogger A holds head high, but probably rues the day
|Bloggers contribute to culture that rewards “bad” behaviors|
But this is par for the course if your job is breaking news as fast as possible, as there is no reward for being late nor is there a penalty for being inaccurate.
In my opinion the race to be first is full of nothing but losers, as it is utterly unsustainable as there is no loyalty being built by readers who will simply follow a trail to the news, rapidly forgetting who was first yesterday or the day before. While the publishing industry has never exactly rewarded accuracy, modern technology and communications tools are clearly worsening the problem for us poor souls who simply want to be informed.
Incidentally, regarding the ethics of publishing stolen documents, I think it pretty well speaks for itself. It’s not about how “easy” a hack was to steal something (despite the funny as shown here). If anyone feels the need to “justify” the actions, well then they are doing just that, aren’t they? Funny how rarely you need to justify actions that are obviously ethical…
Your dilemma is backwards
hi Jeremy –
fyi, A & B are reversed in your upper-right & lower-left quadrants.
also, your labeling of the col/row “Blogger X endorses theft” kind of reveals your bias… not sure “publishing the docs” = “endorsing theft”, but i get your point. don’t think i agree, but yes the prisoner’s dilemma does apply.
I’m with you, Jeremy. Stolen goods are just that, and using them to generate revenue (or coolness points) is fencing. I said as much to Addington, no doubt to his amusement. My main concern is the legal precedent being reinforced … online publication of stolen internal company documents. Sounds like a business model, if Addington and his ilk aren’t punished. And attempting to assuage his guilt by “only” publishing a few of the stolen documents is like trying to feel better about “only” breaking ONE of the puppy’s legs. “It’s not like I killed ’em, or anything. He can be fixed.”
jeremy – your charts are reversed, like dave says. I understand what you are trying to say though – might want to correct the charts, though.
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It’s crazy. Here’s the comment I previously left on TC:
Arrington: “There is clearly an ethical line here that we don’t want to cross […] But a few of the documents have so much news value that we think it’s appropriate to publish them.”
Zatz: Your compass is broken, man. Surprised counsel green-lighted this. And, even if legal, there’s also the uncoolness of it all. Glad my livelihood isn’t based on what or how I blog. :/
I think game theory is fascinating. But I also think it relies a touch to heavily on human rationality for my taste. Your later analysis of Scenario 2 helps illustrate this, where the decision at hand is to decide whether or not to use information that will almost certainly cost the job of someone very close to you. Contrast this with the Twittergate blogger decisions to use information of the same nature; this certainly affects people in the same way, but breaking-news bloggers aren’t nearly as close to the people who ultimately end up as victims so the decision-making process takes different shape. Dunbar’s number clearly comes to mind. Probably more accurate is the idea that we act in our own rational self interest, but along with loads of other less-than-rational social influences.
The real dilemma, as I think you’ve alluded to, is systemic to the industry of ‘breaking news.’ Particularly in an era where newspapers are going away, but not news (of the truly journalistic sort). The former is driven by being ‘first,’ the latter is sustained by trust and ethical reporting. In an age where information is more and more abundant and our information filters are by necessity becoming more developed, I think we’re getting better at telling the difference.