crimes and misdemeanors

Ex-Social Media Editor Faces 25 Years for L.A. Times Website Vandalism

Former Wire Service Social Media Editor Appears In Court Over Charges He Conspired With Hackers
Matthew Keys leaves court on April 23, 2013 in Sacramento, California. Photo: Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Five years ago, when he was working as a producer for a Fox affiliate in California, Matthew Keys posted a Tribune Company login and password in an Anonymous-affiliated chat room and encouraged others to “fuck shit up.” The resulting prank was mild, particularly by the hacker group’s standards. A single article on the L.A. Times website was changed to include references to “Chippy 1337,” and the sentence “Reluctant House Democrats told to SUCK IT UP.” The article was changed back within an hour, but now Keys is facing 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines after being found guilty of conspiring to make unauthorized changes to the site, conspiring to damage the Tribune Company’s computers, and transmitting malicious code.

Keys went on to become a well-known Twitter presence and Reuters’s deputy social media editor, but he was let go after he was charged two years ago. Prosecutors claim that somehow it cost the company $5,000 to correct the error, though it was likely fixed by a few clicks in the company’s content-management system. (As Politico notes, the federal laws used to charged Keys would not apply if the damages were less than $5,000.)

Prosecutors have said they’re “likely” to ask for a sentence of less than five years, and Keys intends to appeal. “He shouldn’t be doing a day in jail,” said his attorney, Jay Leiderman. “With love and respect, [the Times’] story was defaced for 40 minutes when someone found it and fixed it in three minutes. What do you want, a year a minute?”

In a phone interview with the Washington Post, Keys summed up his thoughts on the verdict. “It’s bullshit,” he said. “The verdict is bullshit, the case is bullshit, the charges are bullshit. It’s all bullshit.”

Ex-Editor Faces 25 Years for LAT Vandalism