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Reuters fires social media editor after Anonymous hacking probe

Matthew Keys says he was told his termination was related to his tweet activity during the Boston Marathon bomber manhunt -- and that his federal indictment was not mentioned.

Matthew Keys
Matthew Keys, former social media editor at Reuters.

News agency Thomson Reuters has fired Matthew Keys a month after federal prosecutors accused the social media editor of conspiring with the hacktivist group Anonymous to break into the Los Angeles Times Web site.

Keys announced the development Monday morning on his Twitter account, saying he had just learned of his dismissal and that his union would file a grievance:

Prosecutors alleged last month that Keys, a former Web producer for a TV station owned by Times' parent Tribune Company, handed over log-in credentials and passwords for the network of his former employer to members of the hacker group a couple of years ago. Keys denied the allegations, saying, "I did not give a username and a password to anyone."

Reuters confirmed to several news outlets that Key is no longer employed with the company.

However, the indictment was not the reason Keys said he was given for his termination. The company alleged that during his coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing last week, Keys violated a written warning from late last year that called for "immediate improvement" in his "communication with managers and more discretion in your social media practices," Keys explained in a blog addressing his dismissal:

Reuters said it had a problem with the perceived relationship between my Twitter account and their news organization. A Reuters manager said it was troublesome that several people associated my work on Twitter with the company, pointing to my Twitter bio that said I was a Reuters journalist.
Keys called this a "Catch 22," noting that Reuters guidelines state that Reuters journalists must always identify themselves as such while acting in a professional capacity. He said he was also told the news outlet disagreed with his practice of tweeting emergency scanner information during the manhunt for the bombers and found his actions "reckless."

After learning of authorities' requests not to tweet information heard over the police scanner, Keys said he discontinued the scanner tweets.

Last month's indictment claims that Keys, 26, went by the name AESCracked in an Internet chat forum and had conversations with the hacker who claimed to have attacked the Los Angeles Times Web site. A subsequent defacement of the Times' site included the changing of an article's headline, byline, and sub-headline to include the name "CHIPPY 1337," according to the indictment.

As a result of the indictment, Keys was suspended by Reuters. Keys said his indictment was not mentioned during Monday's 30-minute telephone conversation. "Still, one has to wonder if they are connected," he said.

If found guilty of the charges, Keys faces up to 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000.