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Is media’s interest in Ashley Madison hack more public interest or prurient?




In this photo illustration, a man visits the Ashley Madison website on August 19, 2015 in London, England. Hackers who stole customer information from the cheating site AshleyMadison.com dumped 9.7 gigabytes of data to the dark web on Tuesday fulfilling a threat to release sensitive information including account details, log-ins and credit card details, if Avid Life Media, the owner of the website didn't take Ashley Madison.com offline permanently.
In this photo illustration, a man visits the Ashley Madison website on August 19, 2015 in London, England. Hackers who stole customer information from the cheating site AshleyMadison.com dumped 9.7 gigabytes of data to the dark web on Tuesday fulfilling a threat to release sensitive information including account details, log-ins and credit card details, if Avid Life Media, the owner of the website didn't take Ashley Madison.com offline permanently.
Carl Court/Getty Images

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Under what circumstances is it okay for the media to contact victims of a hack that illegally publicizes people’s private information?

That’s the question being raised in the aftermath of the Ashley Madison hack. News media have been contacting some subscribers to the married dating site Ashley Madison.

The purported reason - to find out if public employees used government resources to pursue dates. Is that media action driven by true public interest, or prurient ones? Are private citizens fair game? Or just government officials, and the like?

In California, dozens of city, county, and state employees email addresses were exposed in the hack. Though it’s unclear if any one of members actually used the site, merely signed up out of curiosity, or had their email address used by someone else.

But if the emails have a government extension, is it within the bounds of journalists to target them, since they’re using government resources and possibly time to, at the very least, explore a site presumably having nothing to do with their line of work?

Tweet us with #AshMadMedia to let us know!

Guests:

Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota