Maybe I live in a moral vacuum: defending TechCrunch over the RIAA post

February 24, 2009 — 7 Comments

I probably should just duck and hide before writing this.

There’s a storm in the blogosphere over a post Erick Schonfield made on TechCrunch last week alleging that gave user data to the RIAA.

Erick isn’t exactly on my Christmas card list, and I’d be the last person to naturally want to defend either Erick, or TechCrunch, but I’m going to.

I’ve read and re-read the post, and I don’t see that it’s quite as bad as people make out.

Yes, the data was incorrect, untrue, a lie…what ever you want to call it. But that’s the nature of tips: some work out to be true, some don’t. Some are great scoops, some ride the fail train.

The question then becomes: which ones do you publish, and how do you publish them.

If you read the post carefully, Erick clearly points out that this is a rumor, and actually publishes the tip clearly marked as such.

He then goes into padding out mode (the mode you go into when you don’t have a lot to write about) where he talks about the broader privacy implications if the rumor is true.

Not once in the post did he say categorically that it was true.

He also made attempts to contact both the RIAA and gave a one line response that clearly didn’t rule out the proposition “To our knowledge, no data has been made available to RIAA.” That’s not a categorically no we didn’t type response. That’s a response that says to me that it might have happened, but the person writing that line isn’t aware of it (hedging bets).

There are of course broader implications of printing such rumors in terms of the effect it can have on a company at the receiving end. That’s a debate left to others, but I’d note that if no lead, tip or leak was ever published, the role of the media (including blogging) as a accountability watchdog would cease to be.

I ask myself what I would have done if I had received the same tip, and although I might have worded the post a little differently, the difference would be small. I would have run that post if I was still at TechCrunch. I might not run it today because I don’t have a highly paid team of lawyers backing me up, but I would consider it.

Love them or hate them, TechCrunch got to where it is today off the back of exclusives and being first. Sometimes they get it wrong, but so to does just about everyone at some stage.

I’m not suggesting that TechCrunch shouldn’t be criticized ever, and that much of the debate around this topic shouldn’t be taking place as much of it is healthy in terms of looking at the broader ethics and placement of blogs, but in part “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”