Sony’s Slippery Slope

January 1, 2015

[wikipedia commons]
[wikipedia commons]

The recent Sony hack story, which continued to develop during December, has brought to light many concerns regarding censorship, the news industry and Internet privacy.

It all began when a hacker group called the Guardians of Peace breached the Sony Pictures computer systems. They released employees’ personal data, blasted celebrities, embarrassed executives and threatened families in an effort to warn the company not to release “The Interview” — a film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that depicts an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jon-un — or any related content.

Then, after it threatened a September-11-style attack on movie theaters that showed the film, chains quickly withdrew it from their screening lists. Sony canceled the Dec. 25 release of the film. Shortly after, New Regency announced plans to drop an untitled thriller about North Korea starring Steve Carrell. President Obama spoke on the topic, saying: “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship in the United States.”

As many news organizations are hungry for eyeballs and page views, they deemed the personal data leaks as newsworthy and published the details, with some pieces garnering more than 3,000 social shares, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

“The new role of journalists, for better or for worse, isn’t as gatekeepers, but interpreters,” writes Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen. If they don’t parse it, others without the experiences, credentials or mindfulness toward protecting personal information certainly will.”

Sony’s legal team sent a letter to news outlets warning of legal action for publishing the hacked information, which is a dubious threat, says the Review. Some have called journalistic ethics into play, while other reporters say they chose to run it “responsibly.”

The Verge’s Emily Yoshida believes that the publication made the right choice to cover the leaks and says that this information is valuable to readers and to all Internet users. “We are all also very aware that had we waited a couple more hours, it would probably no longer be our horse,” she said. “We’d reblog it, though. Chaos reigns.”

Moreover, the overall coverage reminds everyone that all digital information is vulnerable.

“Nothing you say in any form mediated through digital technology — absolutely nothing at all — is guaranteed to stay private,” writes The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo. He also calls for a way to rethink how we store and manage digital data and recommends that everyone jumps to using apps like Snapchat and Confide, which he refers to as the “erasable Internet.”

As of press time, Sony said it was “still exploring other options for distribution” regarding “The Interview.” Also, the studio has hired Judy Smith, former press secretary of George H.W. Bush and the inspiration behind Olivia Pope of the TV show “Scandal,” to help with crisis management and communications following the cyber-attack.

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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