Regardless of the outcome of the trial of Matthew Keys, the Reuters deputy editor for social media, the ethical issues will remain for "new journalism" with social media as a heavily politicized and manipulated tool.
Matthew Keys is heckling me now right on the pages of the once-defaced Los Angels Times about my legitimate blog posts questioning his innocence here, here and here. Speaking of journalistic ethics, it's okay for me to post that I don't buy his alibi, and it's okay for him to heckle, I suppose, although I think most employers would tell their employees not to heckle the customers. News is a business. That's okay, too. When it's a business, it has certain quality-control issues and standards to maintain that blogs are not burdened with.
WHY DO SOCIAL MEDIA WRANGLERS GET CALLED 'JOURNALISTS'?
And that's fine in an open society -- or should be, unless, of course, journalists of the new format intimidate bloggers who criticize them. Not for the first time. My challenges to Anthony de Rosa, Matthew Keys' boss (above) regarding his portrayal of the Occupy protest on the Brooklyn Bridge, led him to block me on Facebook -- which is a creepy function of Facebook that I find has a horrible effect on the "town hall" claims of these private platforms. But in my view, if Reuters is to be ethical, the public feed of Anthony de Rosa -- as a public figure, performing a public function casting the news from his "progressive" perspective for Reuters, really like a columnist -- should not be blocked from the literal view of members of the public who don't agree with them and have expressed dissent against the very process they are slyly engaging in. I don't buy the "in my living room" logic that these sly dogs invoke to keep the mindshare tilted their way.
It would be one thing if the owner of such a feed blocked *from commenting* someone he didn't like, who rained on his vanity parade. That would be irresponsible and also worthy of a call-out, but it would be something that the Facebook "social" notions would support -- Facebook is supposed to be for "friends" -- and only friends who "like" things (and that's why social-activist news corps love them). Friends who don't like things are unfriended. That's its devious premise, of course, which makes it unfit for political work -- or actually, very fit, for those who are adept at manipulating the public, as the Obama team has done in the last elections. But it's another thing when they block you as a person totally on Facebook, removing their *public* feed completely from view. That's really wrong -- but of course, the platform, also bent on social "progress", lets them do that.
I note that Twitter doesn't admit that kind of vanity manipulation of public figures. When Anthony de Rosa or Matthew Keys or other thin-skinned media geeks block me there, I can still look them up in search and read what they say, or use Google or Topsy.
Not so Facebook -- or I might add G+ -- which turn me and my statements into non-persons -- and makes those people who blocked me invisible to me as if they were non-persons, too -- an innovation on the old Stalinist airbrush trick -- so that we can all be cushioned in the cocoon of our same political beliefs with other "likers". Note that Anthony blocked me not for some kind of "TOS violation" -- there wasn't anything rude, hateful, racist, etc. There was just critical speech. But that's too much for them.
IS SOCIAL MEDIA WORK 'ANALYSIS' OR 'OPINION' OR POLITICAL PROPAGANDA?
The entire role of the social media manipulator that these news companies hire is to be questioned, which is the focus I took in first discussing the indictment of Matthew Keys. This post may be what he believes to be a "conspiracy" theory but it certainly isn't -- I've observed time and again how the person playing the social media maven at either nonprofits or news organizations or corporations (Andy Carver at NPR, Lara Kolodny at Fast Company and Alec Ross while at the State Department instantly come to mind) is used for political organizing. It's used to push one perspective -- the "progressive" line. It's not for the sake of real engagement as in "dialogue with the public" or "debate," but a way of purveying a line and getting massive cheers for it from a manipulated public -- or in some cases, an activist public that needs no manipulation as it is already subject to the propaganda flow of various cadre organizations like Moveon or Daily Kos.
I really think the people in these roles step out of all kinds of professional and ethical bounds as they perform them -- they should have a box around them labelled COLUMNIST -- but are forgiven for this under the guise of "innovation" and the ecstasy of "the new". And I constantly see it in operation. Matthew Keys describes himself as "breaking news," and believes he even provides professional tips about how to "break news" (i.e. this gem -- look up key words to find amateur videos on Youtube!). But the feed is always selective, beyond the very top stories that no news organization can afford to pass. It's always delivered with the snark on certain hate targets on the right, and with amplification of the left's own beloved story. It's worse than the liberal establishment media, however, precisely because it purports to be "of the people" and "authentic" and engaging -- yet blocks and mutes and ignores those that dissent from the left-of-center perspective. There's no letters section for the social media editor, you know? No op-ed column where you get to dispute his "authentic stream".
UNDERCOVER JOURNALISM OR UNDERHANDED ALIBI?
But of course, the ethical problems with Keys go far beyond the Twitter newscaster function, into consorting with a thuggish anarchist hacker collective, Anonymous, and pretending now that this was just news-gathering.
First of all, the question I had about this alibi was: which news organization gave the assignment to cover Anonymous? These events came before Matthew worked at Reuters, but certainly Fox TV didn't give him the assignment. He tells us on his Tumblr blog that in fact he did this in his capacity as a "freelancer". Some news corporations have strict rules about what their employees can do as freelancers, some don't; it's not clear if in fact Matthew was on a 1099 type contract relationship even when he did his social media chores for the Fox affiliate so that they may not have bound him with a clause that he couldn't write for other publications -- and they may not have even had a social media policy that would have provided some check on him as he went and cavorted in the IRC channels with Anonymous.
The sketchy freelance status of his original coverage of Anonymous as an "undercover journalist" is covered up by his later posting on the Reuters news site (while employed for Reuters) of a retrospective article about Anonymous featuring Sabu and his cooptation. Obviously, Reuters editors at that time didn't have any qualms about the nature of this piece, or that it was obtained by "undercover journalism" of the sort they should have had more questions about.
WITH ANONYMOUS, IN THE IRC CHANNEL
Second, I question the ethical implication of hanging with criminals for so long. By Matthews' own admission, he spent two months or more in the Anonymous interfeds IRC chat room -- an invitation-only chatroom that you would get to first by friending up the b/tards in other more open settings -- this is how their very rigid, hierarchical cadre organization in fact is structured. It is anything but the looseknit network over-eager liberal journalists -- and their lying propagandist sources in Anonymous -- always portray them to be.
During that time, he heard about operations even involving the theft of credit cards from people. Shouldn't he have reported that to the authorities? He didn't. If anything, in his statement on his own blog about this, he even amended what was apparently a typo in an early blog post to make it absolutely clear that he did not go to the authorities with what he heard in these chatrooms -- an act he took so that no one would start calling him a snitch, as they do Adrian Lamo, for reporting Bradley Manning's activities, or Sabu, a LulzSec operative who was turned by the FBI to cooperate with them -- and who may even now be the source for the indictment against Keys -- and maybe motivated to set him up or trash him after the fact, as we obviously realize.
Two months of pretending to be with the goons -- and then oops, telling us all it was "undercover journalism". Leave aside what this tells us about movement solidarity on the left. It's an ethical problem for journalists that since the Food Lion case really, really needs to be questioned. Since when do you get to hear about crimes and do nothing just to hang with the cool kids and burnish your story as...a freelancer? While working for Fox which you hate? Which is then later hacked?
OTHERS QUESTION KEYS' BEHAVIOUR
On the Huffington Post, an anonymous reader with the handle SeattleSlew98337 questions the story about Fox with the following post:
06:31 PM on 03/20/2013
Really? So when Keys' changed Fox40's twitter handle to SacNewsWire and locked the rest of the station out of it as well as their Facebook page, he was acting as an "undercover journalist" too? Sorry, but I saw his behavior online right after he was fired and still have the emails (and screenshot of the Fox40/SacNewsWire stunt) between myself and a different Fox40 employee discussing his antics online.
Keys should be ashamed of himself for hiding behind the title of journalist and own up to what he did. Otherwise he is just cheapening the profession that right now isn't doing so well. Part of growing up is learning to admit when you screwed up and to make amends for it.
Presumably he knows what the feds know, given the confidence they feel in bringing their case -- that Matthew Keys -- or his account that he's now later after the fact going to tell us "wuz hacked" -- was involved in these email exchanges involved in stealing email addresses, including some of government contacts that this TV station had in their files.
They read the Gawker piece, then contacted Keys directly, and got this damning statement from him:
"I chose to allow myself to be credited as the source of a piece of information in the Gawker article only to lend credibility to their story, but did so fully understanding the risks," he told me in an email.
As for that downside, he says, "During my two month engagement with their group, I witnessed a lot of what Anonymous can do, from harvesting emails of Amazon.com employees to gaining access to jailbroken iPhones to stealing credit card numbers ... From what I've heard, Anonymous hackers have already gained access to my address and phone number."
So what was the risk he thought he took -- firing or arrest? And...two months!
Here's what one of the anonymous commenters has to say under the handle Jerm Deeks:
Jerm Deeks a year ago
Also, what's going to happen to the people who turned these chats over to the authorities? If these people in the logs are guilty of what Anonymous has taken credit for, aren't they just as guilty? Not for the things that happened after they left, but everything before? That chatroom was by invite-only, meaning post-HBGary hack, they were still members of the Anonymous "leadership", will they get hit with criminal charges as well? After all, they didn't say they left because the group started committing criminal acts, they left because the group was using kids and other complaints.
Paging Ashera Research for comment...
WHAT WILL KEYS' ALIBI BE?
Matthew Keys denial is categorical -- he says he did not give an account name and password (Parmy Olsen also says he made that statement to her back when she questioned him while writing her book about Anonymous -- but she then didn't use this material and reported on it later on Forces). I have to wonder if this is going to turn out to be word salad -- what he will actually mean is that he gave an account name and password that he was convinced was deactivated after his departure, or even had proof was deactivated, and was then surprised later to discover wasn't. That would be my guess about how this cunning little maneuver will play out. Or he will simply say he was hacked, and who knows, gosh, those IP addresses are so dynamic and variable you just never know....
Keys may even brazenly say that he gave the authentic log on credentials knowing that all they'd do is a minor defacement that took 30 minutes to correct, merely to establish his bona fides in his "undercover journalism" caper. Hmmm. Well, that may be just like, um, helpfully "checking" AT&T's security for them with the i-Pads, and the judge and jury just may not buy it.
And even if Matthew Keys wriggles out of this case, or gets some kind of suspended sentence for something minor, I'll hardly be convinced. Not merely because he seems to have been an online thug for years before that, but because he's crossing the street to harass me merely for expressing my opinion that he's guilty -- and doesn't have a case, because no undercover job merits this amount of consorting with criminals, and the consorting was not necessary to cover the story anyway.
I'm not alone in my concerns about Matthew Keys --even Huffington Post in its headline about "rogue employees" implies Matthew Keys was one when he seemingly turned against his employer. Sure, they put in the word "allegedly," but the headline lets us know what they think about it. The Washington Post, even while clucking about the purported long sentence -- one that will come nowhere near him and is the usual hysterical take on the charges which isn't the same as the sentence -- still says Keys "is no Aaron Swartz".
Interestingly, although Orin Kerr, the former DOJ official and lawyer who writes for Volokh.com, did not take up Matthew Keys case, although on the scale of the trolldom where Keys inhabited for years, he's less of a nasty character than Weev, the hacker Kerr has decided to defend against the CFAA. Here's what the Post says:
But while it’s easy to see the CFAA as one monolithic relic, Kerr says, the law actually has several parts, and Keys was charged under the least controversial one. That’s because the CFAA’s biggest problem lies in its use of the phrase “unauthorized access” — a vague, only loosely defined term that has left prosecutors and courts to their own interpretations. Keys’s part of the law doesn’t mention that term. Swartz’s does.
Aside from the difference in their alleged crimes, there’s also a split in apparent motives. As many of Swartz’s defenders have pointed out on social media, Swartz was a documented Internet activist who fought publicly for freedom of information.
On the other hand, in chat room transcripts released by the Department of Justice, the user alleged to be Keys urges an Anonymous hacker to “go f--- some s--- up.” That isn’t just a public-relations issue: motives can factor into sentencing, too, Kerr says.
“For example, acting with an intent to profit can turn a misdemeanor into a felony,” he says. “Also, acting as part of a broader criminal scheme can lead to a sentencing enhancement.”
Kerr and the Washington Post -- like me -- took the indictment on good faith as the government's belief that it has a case. Of course, the defendant and his lawyers and the geek public are entitled to take a different view. But they didn't see fit to say "but Keys denies all this" (and maybe it was a timing issue, but there isn't an update).
Poynter also asks some questions. Even the lefty Atlantic has suggested that Keys' lawyers should tell him to shut his yap, he may incriminate himself further or make contempt-of-court type of statements showing lack of remorse that could get him a longer sentence, as it seems to have done for Weev. Yet Keys -- and his Anonymous-defending lawyers -- have brazened this out, in the mistaken belief that Keys, as a social media manipulator for Reuters, is expert at handling the media, whereas their other clients they tell to keep quiet are incapable of handling media.
Hmmm.... And imagine this, Ashera Wolf, community journalist for Anonymous that has turned in some loving profiles of their heroes, has asked questions about journalistic ethics around Keys. Naturally, she'll do that because he's harmed her friends and perhaps helped them go to jail.
I wonder....Is the difference the over-enthusiastic tech and liberal mainstream press is showing for Matthew Keys, "progressive" hipster social media wrangler for Reuters who exposed Anonymous, refused to cooperate with authorities, and Sabu, poor unemployed Hispanic programmer with kids to support, did? Did Matthew expose Anonymous for the sake of a news story (for which he had no assignment) or because they humiliated him by kicking him out of the chatroom once they cottoned to his treachery?
The Anonymous-defending lawyers think that you shouldn't go to jail for just a prank. Well, some of us beg to differ that it's just a prank, and we don't know if at trial, only the defacement of the LAT will be at issue. BTW, I'm calling out the lawyers here not because I don't think that people don't deserve legal defense, and the best they can get, or that people can't be viewed as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law -- of course they deserve defense and the benefit of the doubt as far as the court is concerned.
But these are partisan, vocally biased crusaders -- lawfarers trying to change law they don't like. They aren't even nonprofit advocacy lawyers; they are private lawyers with practices where they can pick and chose their clients -- and pick these ones to make their crusading point. Why, in a free society, would they get to advocate through lawfaring, but bloggers like me not get to say we don't buy their story line?
I won't be "apologizing" as Matthew Keys says I will be, as I haven't written anything that's wrong or that I regret. He's the kind of person who might start papering me with warnings of libel suits from his lovely pro-Anonymous lawyers, too -- once lawyers like this start lawfaring, they will stop at nothing to get their way. Hey, see you in court guys. Your clients are thugs.