Thomson Reuters could handle its deputy social media editor, Matthew Keys, being indicted on federal hacking charges. But after a week in which he was harshly criticized for inaccurate tweets to his 35,000-plus followers about the Boston Marathon attacks — and in which he had a public spat with his boss — Keys finds himself out of a job.
The indictment against Keys, which came out in mid-March, alleged that he'd helped the hacking group Anonymous illegally access media websites while employed by a TV station in California. Those charges, which could result in up to 25 years in prison, prompted Reuters to put him on paid leave while the issue was resolved. That leave ended today.
Just got off the phone. Reuters has fired me, effective today. Our union will be filing a grievance. More soon.— Matthew Keys (@TheMatthewKeys) April 22, 2013
Keys's leave and the charges that prompted them only briefly interfered with his prodigious social media use. The consistent drama of last week's events in Boston prompted Keys to tweet thousands of times — 383 times on Friday alone. And those tweets prompted critics to call him out.
The Awl's Choire Sicha, in a story titled "Is Your Social Media Editor Destroying Your News Organization Today?," broadly criticized the tendency of social media addicts to urgently share incorrect information. But he reserved special critique for Keys.
And then there was Matthew Keys, Deputy Social Media Editor at Reuters, once "considered a wunderkind of new media." His livestream today of any word, rumor, idea, anything: just absurd!
Showing one minute of tweets from Keys, Sicha concluded, "The sheer amount of useless, misleading and random noise put out by this account is unreal."
In her recap of the week's media blunders by various outlets, Hilary Sargent (who runs the blog Chartgirl) used the example of Keys' misinformation — calling him the Reuters' "sort-of-former" social media editor — to lead her critique of the company at large.
In a brief conversation earlier today, a representative of Reuters confirmed to The Atlantic Wire that Keys' tweets last week were solely his own and not on behalf of the company. Indeed, the company's robust liveblog of the week doesn't include tweets from Keys.
Keys defended one component of his actions — his reliance on using information from police scanners — in a post at his Facebook page with the title, "Dear Every Writer Or Editor Who Has Used My Name In A Critical Piece About The Boston Marathon And Scanner Traffic These Past Few Days." But he also offered another tacit defense of his efforts on Twitter.
...perhaps if I was in a real newsroom with access to my work email, instead of shut out a month ago, I wouldn't be working out of a bedroom— Matthew Keys (@TheMatthewKeys) April 19, 2013
In other words: If Reuters hadn't suspended him, he'd have been better able to share information.
It was the second time during the week that Keys criticized his former employer. On Wednesday, he charged that Anthony DeRosa, his boss at Reuters, was stealing his tweets.
Sara Morrison of Columbia Journalism Review (and a contributing writer for The Atlantic Wire) compiled a number of the responses to that charge. Michael Rusch of BuzzFeed summarized the sentiment:
When asked, the Reuters representative we spoke with didn't offer any rationale for Keys' firing, merely confirming that he is no longer a Reuters employee. Keys has not yet replied to a request for comment, but he did explain his understanding of that rationale on Twitter:
Reuters said the basis of my termination was because I violated my final written warning. You can read it here - bit.ly/11eWmRu— Matthew Keys (@TheMatthewKeys) April 22, 2013
That letter, which apparently served as Key's final written warning as part of his termination process, alleges that he created a parody Twitter account. That account, mocking the CEO of Google, suggested that Keys wasn't "guided 24 hours a day by the ethics" of Thomson Reuters. Perhaps more to the point:
… the fake account embarrassed our News reporting team and has possibly damaged our relationship with a company that we have covered agressively. …
We must see immediate improvement in your communications with managers and more discretion in your social media practices.
Shortly before Keys announced that he had been terminated, DeRosa, his former boss, tweeted this:
Last I checked, Twitter is an opt-in medium. If you're getting bad information, blame yourself for choosing to trust the wrong people.— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) April 22, 2013
Whether or not the two tweets are related is left as an exercise for the reader.
Update: In an interview with Politico, Keys indicated that his activity last week was a contributing factor in the dismissal.
“It’s my understanding that Reuters did not agree with some of the coverage I did on my own during the Boston Marathon events from last week,” Keys said in an interview shortly after he announced he had been fired from Reuters. “And they have a specific set of reasons for the termination which I don’t agree with and the union that represents me does not agree with. We are in agreement, the union and myself, that I have done nothing wrong, that the basis for the termination is incorrect and doesn’t hold any water.”
Keys also told Politico that he assumes Reuters was "looking for an out."
Update, 5:30 p.m.: At his Tumblr page, Keys offers a fuller account of the termination from his perspective. In short: Reuters took issue with his erroneous tweets and reliance on police scanner information because it reflected poorly on the company.
Top image from a video by Amanda Fiscina via Vimeo.