It has been interesting to watch a number of the people who decried "the fappening"—the theft and release of nude photos of dozens of female celebrities—rally ’round the wagons and defend their reporting on the hacked Sony emails.
After all, we're dealing with remarkably similar situations. Both the fappening and the Sony email dump have been described by the media as "leaks"—suggesting intent on behalf of some party to the conversations to get the offending documents out there—as opposed to "hacks," or, better, "thefts." (Words matter, people.) With the theft of the nude photos, you have personal, private communiques in the forms of photos that were stolen and widely disseminated for little more than the titillation of third parties. The theft of the Sony emails is arguably even more troubling: We have a situation in which private communiques in the form of emails were stolen in order to a.) extort money from a business, and b.) blackmail that business into not releasing an implicitly political document (The Interview, a movie about the assassination of North Korea's tinpot dictator).
This is not, as Aaron Sorkin has noted, the case of a whistleblower trying to shed light on a commercial criminal enterprise. This is not data gleaned from the release of documents by a government employee worried about NSA overreach. This is not information that greatly impacts the health of the republic or will save the lives of our citizens or will aid in the defeat of our enemies.
No. This is a document dump that was explicitly designed to embarrass a company's employees for committing the crime of mocking an angry little tyrant with a bad case of the gout, an awful haircut, and very thin skin.
I'm not saying the press shouldn't be reporting on this—or, even more ridiculously, that the government should be in the business of suppressing such reporting—but it's worth at least considering the damage we're doing by aiding the "Guardians of Peace" in their quest to disseminate the embarrassing info. After all, by reporting on this data dump we are literally helping the (cyber) terrorists win. At the very least, we should be wrestling with the ethical problems a reporter faces when he's handed a bunch of stolen—not leaked, stolen—documents. However, there hasn't really been much in the way of grappling with the issue; this tweet, from Farhad Manjoo, seems pretty representative:
If you have to ask what's the difference between publishing celeb pics and interesting corporate strategy documents you are an idiot
— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) December 17, 2014
The "interestingness" standard is a rather fascinating one to determine whether or not one should publish and disseminate stolen documents. After all, I imagine there were a quite a few people who were interested in looking at nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. But the (American, at least) press doesn't make a living by running nude photos of attractive women, so, hey, it's "not interesting." Further, the idea that we're all talking about "corporate strategy documents" is an odd one. The headlines about this email dump have revolved around stupid jokes about Obama's viewing habits, the possibility of a Men in Black/21 Jump Street crossover, and whether or not Angelina Jolie is a spoiled brat. Even the analysis of corporate documents has more or less focused on making fun of Sony's PowerPoint skillz.
We're not really talking about Enron 2.0 here.
Meanwhile, an entire corporation and our fundamental artistic freedoms are being held hostage by a nation of racist dwarfs. But hey. Maybe Amy Pascal said something dumb in an email. So it's probably all worth it.