Friday, September 19, 2008

The Ethics of Linking to the Sarah Palin Email Hack...

Computer hackers have broken into Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account and have posted its content online. This was Palin's personal email account which she primarily used for friends and family and was not work-related (though some bloggers have attacked her for using it for official business, which has legal implications).

Predictably, the McCain camp has strongly criticized whichever hackers are responsible, citing it as a gross violation of privacy. Meanwhile, Yahoo has temporarily shut down Palin's email account, as requested.

But here's where things get interesting. The content of her email account was posted on Wikileaks - a website designed for whistle-blowers. Specifically, it includes her address book (with only 18 contacts), 5 screenshots (including only 2 of actual email messages, neither of which is very revealing), and 2 family photos emailed as JPEGs.

This hardly seems to be a case of whistle-blowing. The purpose of Wikileaks is to reveal information "of political, diplomatic, ethical or historical significance," but this does no such thing. It is, in fact, a clearly malicious attack that serves no public interest.

A full investigation is underway by the FBI, and it is being followed closely online by blogs such as this one which suggests that the hacker in question may actually be the son of Congressman Mike Kernell (D-TN).

But my question is this: As this story has proliferated in cyberspace, do bloggers have more of an ethical responsibility to either 1) link to the Wikileaks site in the name of good journalism and letting people decide for themselves, or to 2) report on the story without linking to Wikileaks for the sake of not lending credence to a malicious personal attack?

I thought long and hard about this before ultimately deciding to include the link above. In my opinion, people ought to be able to make such a decision for themselves, and not have a gatekeeping editor make it for them. And besides, when someone like me sees the email content for what it is - totally benign - then it compels sympathy for Palin and grossly backfires on the perpetrator's objectives.

But I'm very curious to know other people's thoughts on this...


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