Posted July 15, 2009 8:42 am by with 10 comments

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Twitter Bird GoofyWhile this may fall into the “too early to tell” category it certainly is of interest, especially considering the pace of Internet ‘news’ these days. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has had a ‘gift’ fall into his lap and a lot of folks are interested to see if he is going to share with the rest of the world. Apparently TechCrunch and others have been handed some confidential Twitter docs and now there is question of what to do with it. The opening paragraph of his post is enough to make anyone curious, at the very least.

Here’s a dilemma: The guy (”Hacker Croll”) who claims to have accessed hundreds of confidential corporate and personal documents of Twitter and Twitter employees, is releasing those documents publicly and sent them to us earlier today. The zip file contained 310 documents, ranging from executive meeting notes, partner agreements and financial projections to the meal preferences, calendars and phone logs of various Twitter employees.

So what to do? Arrington assures his readers that the majority of the documents won’t be published. He even goes so far as to call most of them uninteresting but there are some individuals who might be embarrassed by some of the material.

Imagine what it must be like over at Twitter HQ. If you are among the 50 plus chosen who work for the most talked start up in a very long time there has to be a few uncomfortable moments in the offing today. A company that small likely has a pretty active rumor mill and this kind of potentially uncomfortable situation can be extremely disruptive to work and to the culture in general.

While Arrington is saying what he wouldn’t publish he is also talking about what he will. If he actually does remains to be seen but he did say

But we are going to release some of the documents showing financial projections, product plans and notes from executive strategy meetings. We’re also going to post the original pitch document for the Twitter TV show that hit the news in May, mostly because it’s awesome.

I have a few pretty strong feelings about using this kind of material considering how it was acquired. Not being a pure ‘journalist’, getting a scoop is not my first thought and it seems like there needs to be some compromises made in order to get ‘stories’. This is certainly one of those instances. Gladit’s not me making this call! Many in the comment thread of the post complained about Arrington’s plans but he=is reply was as follows

lol. if we only posted things that companies gave us permission to post this would be a press release site and none of you would be here. News is stuff someone doesn’t want you to write. The rest is advertising.

Chime in Pilgrims. What line is good to cross and what lines are better left alone? Is this just a way to get people to TechCrunch since nothing has really been revealed yet? Since it appears that TC is not the only outlet to get these docs should it just be a gold rush to get it out first and claim the notoriety? Lastly, how would it look now if he didn’t publish the goods?

UPDATE: TechCrunch Responds to the Response

  • As a former journalist I know that many such documents fall into the hands of writers every day. However, the deciding factor as to whether or not to publish is threefold. Firstly, is it of public interest (not of interest to the public – that’s different). Secondly, were the documents obtained legally.? Thirdly, are the documents what they purport to be? Often, such documents appear convincing, but turn out to be false. The Sunday Times knows to its cost with the so-called Hitler Diaries, that people go to extraordinary lengths to fabricate stories.

    Before anyone decides to publish the contents of these documents, it first needs to be established whether or not they are real. If they are, then it needs to be established as to how they were obtained. if they were not stolen or obtained using hacking, then the public interest question arises.

    My guess….the documents are more likely to be fakes than real.

  • @ Graham Jones – Thank you for bringing up that valid point. I did consider discussing whether these ‘documents’ were to be trusted but since Arrington came on so strong about them I assumed he had done his homework. Of course, we all know what happens when you assume ……..

    Thanks for the input

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  • Though I hate to say this, I have to agree with Arrington on this particular issue. Here are my thoughts:

    Jamie’s last blog post..Why Michael Arrington SHOULD Post Twitter Docs

  • So, now we know that the documents are real since Twitter has now taken legal advice and admitted they were hacked into. My orginal theory that the documents were fake is blown away…! Even so, the fact that a document is real does not mean it should be published. Apart from the “public interest” decision, there is also the “publisher interest” decision. Will the short term gain in readers be worthwhile compared with the long term loss of readers who disagree with the act of publishing. In Liverpool, UK, today you still will find it hard to get anyone to read The Sun newspaper (the most popular daily in the UK) because of what the newspaper said about Liverpool football fans back in 1996. Sometimes what seems to be a “scoop” is worthless in the long term – a factor that people often forget to consider. The former editor of The Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, had to resign from his job because of a “scoop” that later turned out to have considerable weaknesses. He lost his job and the paper lost readers.

    So, even though these documents may have some potential fascination there is still doubt about their “public interest” and their potential long-term damage to the blogs that publish the details. Add to that the fact that they appear to have been obtained illegally and many of these bloggers could find themselves in court.

    More importantly in all this is something that appears almost forgotten. The hacker simply got into a Twitter employee’s Google Apps account. That suggests that there is a huge weakness in the Google Apps system, pointing to a potential problem for almost anyone who uses the Google system. When the history books are written, this incident may well end up being a turning point in the success or otherwise of online applications.

  • He shouldn’t have published the documents. He knew very well they were stolen.

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  • Thank you for this good article.

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