December 16, 2014
The debate that has erupted after Sony’s David Boies’ “cease and desist” letter to media outlets was published invokes the paradoxical nature of trying to control and predict the media a la; have you ever walked into a crowded bar and demanded everyone stop talking?
It has also raised to the forefront, yet again, of the media’s role in disseminating information to public, and where the lines between legitimate information and illegality lie.
The role of social media in reacting to cease and desist notices, super-injunctions and attempts at news suppression have been documented heavily over the last few years, often with hilarious results. The so-called Streisand Effect has evolved to become an anticipated behavioural effect of the internet; that when more pressure is placed on the secrecy of a story, the more social media will act to compound its publicity. See another list of social media mishaps.
The moral and legal issue with Sony Picture’s leak is several fold, primarily because of the inclusion of personal details amidst the vast amount of materials leaked by the so called “Guardians of Peace.” Social security numbers, home addresses, personal contact details are subsets of information wherein dissemination by media outlets contain the possibility for personal harm of aforementioned persons. The moral decision to publish such information rightly bears legal implications.
However, where the personal opinions of certain executives and members of Sony come into play, it is not so much a legally-defined area. When published online, the effect is similar to the “genie out of the bottle”; it won’t go back in. Media outlets are arguing that the personal opinions of such executives should be published in the public interest, due to the fact that they exist in the first place. It is incumbent on the press to exercise intelligence in what they publish, treading the line between what is confidential morally, and what is legally confidential, (despite being under the pressure of creating the best headlines.)
Others have pointed to a corporate lack of consideration in storing such a vast trove of personal information in such ill-secure databases, and others exercise the right to publish what they feel under freedom of speech. Sony legally can’t force media outlets to comply with its request, however, insofar as none of the broadcasters participated in the original hack.
The issue of damage limitation is what Sony should focus on now, though this is a daunting exercise considering the scope of stolen information isn’t yet known, with further “releases” being promised by the hackers by Christmas. Sony’s threat to the media is already proving that an aggressive stance towards the media does not work to contain the leak, but to spread it further. Whilst, we can be sure that most of web users who know of the story at large won’t pirate the leaked movies, there has been a huge surge in social interest in the leaked movie trailers. The noise accompanying the story, stoked both by Sony own legal team and by media outlets in kind, have directed much attention to its property. In fact, 5 days after the leaks hit the media, Sony’s social media platforms experienced a huge spike in activity.
Among the numbers, social media consultancy RelishMix reports; Sony’s official Facebook page jumped by 1.6 million likes on Thanksgiving Day, whereas a usual day would rack up a small 900.
The top line trailer for the leaked movies, Annie and Fury have seen their exposure boosted by nearly a third since November 24th.
The no-so obvious opportunity underpinning much of Sony’s woes currently is the chance to engage with its newly energized web-user following, and not counter the public’s interest with litigate rejection. Amongst many of Sony’s new followers there must be a section who are genuinely interest in what Sony has to say, and are waiting for the word to come from the horse’s mouth.