“How to check if you were exposed in the leaked Ashley Madison data,” offered The Sydney Morning Herald. “First celebrity appears to be named in Ashley Madison leak,” said news.com.au. Contrast this with the headlines generated a few weeks ago in relation to another data dump: “Govt confirms eight Australians hacked by IS,” said Sky News. And The Daily Telegraph went with “Islamic State hackers attack Australian public servants, issuing a frightening hit list”.

A “leak”, in news parlance, generally refers to confidential information, often in the public interest, given to the media by a whistleblower, politician or concerned citizen. A “hack”, by contrast, is a cybercrime in which information is sometimes stolen and published. Almost half of the news stories referring to the recent data dump from infidelity website Ashley Madison called it a “leak”, but the publication of confidential information by a group calling itself “Islamic State Hacking Division” was called a “leak” in just a third of pieces.

According to data from media monitoring company Isentia, the words “Ashley Madison” and “hack” or “leak” have appeared in the Australian media 917 times since the story first broke on July 19 that hackers had accessed confidential account information from 37 million users of the site and planned to release their details publicly. Of those, 684, or 75%, of the stories mentioned “Ashley Madison” and “hack”, and 420, or 46%, mentioned “Ashley Madison” and “leak”. Some stories contained both terms.

The two outlets that covered the story most extensively were British imports from opposite ends of the political (and journalistic) spectrum: The Guardian Australia and Daily Mail AustraliaThe Guardian Australia used the term “hack” in relation to the story 40 times, as compared to 19 mentions for “leak”. Daily Mail Australia seemed to use the terms interchangeably (and voraciously), racking up 42 mentions for “leak” and 59 for “hack”.

But when it came to reporting on the story of a group calling itself “Islamic State Hacking Division”, the media were less inclined to use the word “leak”. In the two weeks after the story broke on August 12 there were 110 mentions of it in the Australian media, with 83, or 75%, of them using the term “hack” and just 39, or 35%, preferring “leak”. Again, some stories mentioned both terms.

There is a vast disparity in the amount of coverage, with almost nine times as many stories on the Ashley Madison data dump as the “Islamic State Hacking Division” story. Many more people were affected by the Ashley Madison hack, but even accounting for that, the salacious details were too much for the media to ignore.

Peter Fray

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