While this raises many interesting questions about Twitter’s security - or that of its staff and the online applications they use - what is even more interesting is the response of the technology/Twitter community to the breaking news.
TechCrunch’s first post, announcing it had received the documents and intended to publish a selection of them over the course of the week, received more than 200 comments in just over an hour and it became a trending topic on twitter.
The consensus seemed clear – TechCrunch shouldn’t publish the illegally-obtained documents.
When TechCrunch published anyway, many unfollowed @techcrunch and unsubscribed from its RSS feed.
As the small selection of comments below shows, many questioned the ethics of the usually highly-regarded blog on its decision to publish.
I feel very strongly about this: we need to send THE strongest signal that it is not alright to steal people's data and publish: even if it is 'newsworthy.'
This pains me somewhat because up until now I have admired Michael Arrington [TechCrunch] for his astuteness and business acumen.
As Arrington freely admits himself TechCrunch often breaks stories using information from documents leaked to the publication. And it's not alone; all news organisations sometimes have to walk the shadowy line between right and wrong in order to break news.
The argument of ‘public interest’ may be strong, for example The Telegraph and the MP’s expenses scandal, or more tenuous as with News Of The World's phone hacking.
But maybe for Arrington the decision was even simpler than that. When he received the documents he was faced with a choice. Publish, and face the backlash (the upside of which is massive publicity and increased readership) or pass up the opportunity and let one of his major rivals such as Mashable or ReadWriteWeb have the scoop, as inevitably his source would have touted his wares elsewhere.
In these tough times for journalism, passing up a big story on Twitter - the media flavour of the year - would surely be a distinctly unwise move.
Furthermore this was a story with long-tail potential, keeping a steady flow of traffic returning to the website with a series of revelations (as The Telegraph did with MPs' expenses). After all, even those opposed to the publication will have read the documents in order to comment on them and even if they didn’t link back, TechCrunch is hardly difficult to find.
It seems to me that in the short-term TechCrunch may have put a bee in the collective bonnet of the tech community by picking on their ‘new best friend’ (I doubt they would have jumped as readily to Facebook’s defence) but in the long run it will reap the rewards of taking the risk and breaking the news first.
Nikki Girvan is a freelance journalist and former commissioning editor in consumer publishing. She is now studying for an advanced certificate in PR at Birmingham City University. Here she writes about media graduates' views on the industry. She also blogs at www.nikkigirvan.co.uk.