Reuters deputy social media editor Matthew Keys was charged last week by the Department of Justice with helping the “hacktivist” group Anonymous hack the Los Angeles Times website in 2010.
Keys, a prominent figure on Twitter for his up-to-date news and alerts, allegedly gave hackers associated with Anonymous internal logins and passwords to Tribune Co. that allowed them to change the LA Times’ front-page website content.
Yet as more information surfaces, the Keys story has become more complex. His lawyers said that Keys was acting as an undercover journalist who wished to report on the online group Anonymous. One of Keys’ attorneys, Tor Ekeland, called the case a “classic example of DOJ overreach,” the Huffington Post reports.
“Now when everything is online and anyone can be a blogger or journalist, it’s hard to tell where to draw the line between what’s okay online and what isn’t,” said Meaghan Melly, a Boston University sophomore studying occupational therapy.
Keys was a former employee at Tribune Co. A few days before the LA Times hack, he allegedly changed all of the social media passwords at Fox 40, the local Tribune Co. station at which he had worked. He also allegedly told the station’s producer that he was in communication with Anonymous members and had “access to future Anonymous operations,” according to the Huffington Post.
His attorneys, however, said that Keys was in a chatroom with Anonymous hackers as an investigative journalist. "This is a nasty shot across the bow for all journalists that would seek to cover Anonymous," said Jay Leiderman, Keys’ other attorney. Federal prosecutors counter that Keys went well beyond what a journalist should do.
Either way, the ethics of Keys’ alleged actions can be disputed. “I think a crime involves harming someone. He temporarily helped people harm a website. That isn’t a big deal. I don’t think it deserves a prison sentence, maybe a fine. He didn’t hurt anyone physically, financially or emotionally,” said Kelsey Bruun, a sophomore studying journalism at Northeastern University.
Melly said she doubts Keys was acting like a “legitimate” journalist, and wonders if Keys was really just a strong supporter of the Anonymous cause. “I guess I could respect him if he really believed in Anonymous and wanted to get their message across, but at the same time, hacking can be a really serious crime and maybe he just wanted to get back at his old bosses and coworkers.”
Bruun said that whether or not Keys was acting as a journalist or not is hard to tell, “especially when everything is so technologically advanced.” She does, however, offer a perspective on the journalism that goes into covering Keys’ case: “I think that when we cover and often sensationalize stories like this it detracts from the real crimes going on all the time; people are being murdered, raped and really harmed, which seems like a bigger deal than a website being hacked.”