Palin’s e-mails aren’t going back in the bottle

By Steve Outing

Since John McCain has stated that he doesn’t know how to use a computer, his campaign’s reaction to someone hacking into running mate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo Mail account and spreading the contents around the web should come as no surprise. (It appears that the e-mails are legit.) His campaign manager, Rick Davis, appears to be as equally clueless about “the Internets.”

In this Gawker report on the hijacked e-mails, Davis is quoted:

“The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them.”

Oy! Perhaps they still use typewriters over at McCain campaign HQ. Davis must be thinking we still live back in the day when the news media could be persuaded to squelch something like this. If the media decided to hold back (because, after all, this was an illegal act committed by someone, and old media probably wouldn’t touch a story that’s so ethically and legally challenged), then the public wouldn’t see the e-mails.

Sorry, Mr. Davis, but we don’t live in that era anymore. Even if your lawyers convinced Gawker to take them down (unlikely), there are copies popping up on websites all over the place, and all over the world. Any attempt at playing digital whack-a-mole with Palin’s personal e-mails would be fruitless. Many Internet users will take it as a challenge to spread the e-mails even further if you try to (pointlessly) tamp this down.

I’m not saying that I condone someone breaking into Palin’s Yahoo account. What I am saying is that now that this has happened, the McCain camp is basically screwed.

My advice to the campaign: You’ll look foolish and demonstrate your lack of understanding of the Internet if you try to get everyone to take down those purloined e-mails. You’re in a lousy place, so put your focus on dealing with the content of the e-mails, and explaining why it was OK (if you can) that Palin was conducting official business using Yahoo.

The other dilemma here is for traditional news organizations. Will they publish the e-mails? I doubt it, and I certainly wouldn’t encourage them to. But they should report on the brouhaha taking place online about Palin’s e-mail account, and can address the personal account used for official business controversy.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!