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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hacking isn’t journalism, it’s a crime

I might take heat from other journalists for saying this, but someone needs to speak up.

Hacking to obtain information isn’t journalism. It’s a crime, and journalists should stop supporting it.


The way many news outlets are covering WikiLeak’s irresponsible data dump, including personal passwords stolen from emails, is encouraging the hackers. The chairman of Clinton’s campaign had his phone and social media accounts taken over because the hackers shared his passwords with the world.

That’s not blowing the whistle on corruption. That’s harassment.

There are many times when journalists will write important stories based on documents that parties didn’t intend to release. In the Panama Papers series, for instance, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shared documents about international banking that a whistleblower found at their law firm with a team of journalists. That resulted in many stories about public official corruption and questionable transactions. However, the journalists didn’t release every single document, and they certainly didn’t put personal information out there. They created a searchable database that tied individuals to companies.

Compare that to WikiLeaks, which has released social security and credit card numbers in its unedited data dumps. What’s the journalistic purpose in that?

The Panama Papers came from a whistleblower at the bank who had access to the documents. Many times, people who see something wrong can’t come forward without getting in trouble, so they pass on information they were privy to.

You could also argue that Edward Snowden was a whistleblower because the government information he had access to shook his moral compass, although he could have been much more careful not to release confidential information that put lives at risk. Snowden has criticized WikiLeaks for its “hostility to even modest curation."

The hackers who have stolen emails from politicians are not blowing the whistle because they didn’t have the right to access that information in the first place. It’s akin to the Watergate break in where operatives for President Nixon stole files from the Democratic Party. But this time the media is playing along and publicizing the documents that were stolen. Since we know that the hackers have a political motive, how can the media trust that the information supposedly in the email is accurate?

Maybe because there hasn’t been a real bombshell. But that’s besides the point.

This isn’t a political issue. It’s a crime that can be used against any party, or company. Remember when North Korea hacked Sony Pictures because they were offended by a comedy movie about Kim Jung-Un? I spoke out against that too.

Hacking will happen whether the media covers it or not, but promoting hacked material helps the criminals injure their victims. It’s like when people share videos of teens getting bullied or beaten up on social media, and how that amplifies the pain and embarrassment. The more it hurts, the more likely the bully will strike again, and that goes for the hacker as well.

In the never-ending battle for ratings and clips, sometimes journalists need to stop and think about the behavior they’re promoting.

1 comment:

  1. Well-written, Brian - thanks for making a stand. - Michael Mut

    ReplyDelete