Matthew Keys, journalist and social media newsbreaker, was sentenced on Wednesday to two years in prison. His crime was, in effect, vandalism, but the government would prefer that you think of it as hacking. Keys “assisted Anonymous,” which in simple English means he gave a reportedly-Scottish hacker login credentials with which said hacker was able to change a headline on one Los Angeles Times article. The change was in effect for about 30 minutes, and then all was back to normal.
The so-called “affluenza teen” — who killed four people while driving drunk then fled to Mexico — was also sentenced yesterday (for violating the terms of his probation), but was sentenced to ten fewer days than Keys.
Keys’s story begins in 2008, when he joined FOX40 in Sacramento, California as Online News Producer. Two years later, after receiving a promotion, Keys was fired: on his personal Twitter account, he expressed discontent about FOX40’s coverage; when his boss chastised him, Keys did not repent. Though he was fired, his Tribune Company login credentials were not disabled.
Over the next two months, he allegedly began trolling the company’s social media accounts and sending indignant emails, which emails, it seems, led to a few headaches. (Which, indubitably, was the goal.) In December, 2010, in an online chat forum, Keys allegedly shared his login credentials with an Anonymous-affiliated hacker, who in turn — acting on his own, though encouraged by Keys to “go fuck some shit up” — accessed the Los Angeles Times central management system, learned how to alter content, and changed one headline. In about 30 minutes, administrators reverted the article to its original form.
About one year later, in 2012, Keys was hired by Reuters. While there, he started gaining renown for his social media feeds. But in October, 2012, FBI agents “visited” Keys’s home. According to Keys, he “woke up to find two guns pointed” at him. He apparently penned a confession for both the LA Times “hack” and the indignant emails. In March, 2013, he was charged with three counts: conspiracy to cause damage a protected computer, transmission of malicious code, and attempted transmission of malicious code. The following month, Reuters fired him.
In late September, 2015, Keys’s trial began. He pled not-guilty. In early October, the jury found him guilty on all counts; Keys faced a maximum of 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
In November, it becomes clear that the actual vandalist was never charged with any crimes or actually pursued, though authorities knew his identity.
The Los Angeles Times has not disclosed pageview numbers. Aside from a few headaches in their offices, Keys’s crime — if it may be said to be a crime — was trivial. The so-called hack did not make news in the ensuing months.
Keys is expected to appeal his sentence.