Monday, December 15, 2014

When the Press Aids the Enemy

Let's start with this- Freedom of the press is a critical part of any free society, and more importantly, a democratically governed society.

But that being said, I can't help but think there are times when the actions of the media aid the enemy. This is a touchy subject so I'll keep it concise and just make a few points that stick in my mind.

First, it's pretty hard to argue that the media looks for ever-more sensational headlines, truth be damned, to get clicks and drive traffic to their publication. Whether it's digital or actual ink-on-paper sensationalism sells, there's no arguing with that.

What troubles me is that like in the war on terrorism, the enemy succeeds in their mission when the media creates hysteria and fear. This much should be clear. The media tend to feed into this pretty regularly and we see this in some of the most sensational headlines from stories that should told in fact, not fantasy.


So when I came across this article on Buzzfeed called "The Messy Media Ethics Behind the Sony Hacks" it suddenly hit me - the media may very well be playing perfectly into the enemy's hands. The "Guardians of Peace" (GOP) in their quest to ruin Sony Pictures Entertainment have stolen an unfathomable amount of information. As Steve Ragan who has repeatedly written on about this and many other breaches tweeted that's 200Gb or 287,000 documents. That's mind-blowing.

This cache of data has proven to be yet-unreleased movies, marketing presentations, email exchanges between executives and attorneys, financial plans, employees' medical records and so much more. The GOP have made it clear their aim is to "punish" Sony Pictures Entertainment - and while we don't really have an insight as to the true motivations here, I think it's clear that releasing all this data is meant to severely negatively impact the business.

What has followed in the days since the announcement of the hack is a never-ending stream of "news" articles that I struggle to understand. There were articles like this one providing commentary and analysis on internal marketing department presentations. There were articles analyzing the internal and privileged (as far as I know, but I'm not a lawyer) communications between corporate legal counsel and Sony Pictures executives. There were articles talking about the release of SPE employee medical records. The hit-parade goes on and on... and I'm not linking over to any more of the trash because it embarrasses me.

Clearly, clearly, the mainstream media (and hell even the not-so-mainstream) have long lost their ethics. Some would claim that it's the "freedom of the press" that allows them to re-publish and discuss sensitive, internal documents. Others argue that since it's already in the public domain (available on BitTorrent) then it's fair game. Note: This was discussed during the Snowden release - and it was clear that classified information released to the public domain does not suddenly lose its classified status. I'm fairly certain this easily applies to the not-national-security type of assets as well. To be honest, this argument makes me question the intellectual integrity of some of the people who make it.

Anyway, back to my point. If the GOP wanted to destroy Sony Pictures Entertainment then hacking in and releasing secret information and intellectual property was only half the battle. The second half, unfortunately, is being picked up and executed by the media, bloggers, and talking heads putting out "analysis" on all this data. Publishing links to the hacked data, analyzing its contents, and looking for further embarrassing and ugly things to publish- the media should be ashamed of itself.

The hack alone wasn't going to damage SPEs image to where it has fallen now - the media is clearly complicity in this and it's a shame. I'm not an attorney so I question whether publishing and discussing confidential communications between an attorney and executive is ethical. Forget that, is it even legal? Journalists and bloggers continue to hide behind the "freedom of the press", and some folks even to blasting me for daring to question the absolute rights of the press. Except - the freedom of the press isn't absolute, as far as I know.

But whether it's legal, clearly there are ethical problems here. If you're in the media and you're poring over the confidential email communications stolen from Sony Pictures Entertainment systems, I emphasize stolen, and you're commenting on this - to what end? Arguing that the media is releasing this information because (a) it's already in the public domain and (b) it's "for the public good" is ludicrous.

Remember - while you're reveling in someone else's misery that you too may be a coincidental victim one day. Then it'll be your turn to have your private information released and analyzed and attacked as part of the next breach. Your recourse? None... Glass houses, journalists. Glass houses.

1 comment:

Geoffrey Seroka said...

I'm not a writer, reporter, or publisher, so I'm going to approach this as a reader. Ultimately, I think we as consumers bear some of the responsibility (at least, those of us who go on the hunt for the salacious articles). This is very similar to the situation not long ago when all those celebrity photos were released. The various online "news" sites that published the photos or links to them were complicit in the breach of privacy. But also every person who went hunting for them was complicit as well. I'm not a saint online by any stretch of the imagination, but that argument struck home for me and kept me from even casually searching for any of those leaked photos.
People should treat this situation the same. If a headline clearly indicates that the reporter has included sensitive and stolen information in their article, don't click on it. In fact, send a message to the people who run the site, telling them that you are disappointed by their lack of ethics. The solution for this problem has to start with us the consumers.

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