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Nothing makes a bit of information more titillating than knowing that you were never supposed to see it. This, as much as any actual revelation so far, is the power of the ongoing document dump from the Hillary Clinton campaign, which WikiLeaks is in the middle of doling out.

The files, said to be illegally taken from the email of Mrs. Clinton’s adviser John Podesta, are available to all. Which means anyone can determine, on the fly, their own personal standards for journalism — newsworthiness, context and documentation, ethics.

Weaponized data dumps like these present a challenge even for full-time journalists, who are assessing hundreds and thousands of documents every day in real time, under both competitive pressure and the intense press-watcher scrutiny of an election.

Throw in an internet hive of document-scourers, some of them interested parties, and you have a recipe for indiscriminate sharing, invasion of privacy and disinformation, at too great a speed and in too great a volume to be vetted.

As Zeynep Tufekci, a professor of information science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has ably pointed out on Twitter, the WikiLeaks dump revealed a campaign staffer’s near-suicide and produced misleading viral shares that took quotes from emails to Mr. Podesta and claimed they were Mr. Podesta’s own words.

Maybe these tweets will contain a link to the original document, or not. Maybe you have the time and inclination to go read the original source for accuracy, or, probably, you don’t. Either way, view after online view, the damage is done, the impression is created (conspiracy! scandal!), the e-genie is out of the bottle (And in some cases may not even be an actual genie; fake WikiLeaks documents have been circulating too.)

None of this is to say that WikiLeaks’ revelations should be off-limits or that they don’t matter. I’d be a hypocrite to say that, given that I work for a publication that reported on the Pentagon Papers and Donald J. Trump’s taxes. Some of the most important news stories are the result of news media outlets’ getting their hands on information they weren’t supposed to have access to.

The Clinton files, too, contained genuine news. Whether you consider the transcripts of her paid speeches to bank executives damning or innocent, for instance, they were an important campaign issue, and their release is in the public interest.

But there’s a difference between treating a piece of information as newsworthy even though it was hacked and treating a piece of information as newsworthy because it was hacked.

There’s been plenty of the latter in the Clinton campaign emails. Mainstream journalists have been tweeting out tidbits — look, John Podesta’s advice on cooking risotto! — like shoppers showing off their finds at an estate sale.

Online press critics, meanwhile, have taken emails from reporters (including some at The New York Times) seeking quotes or confirmation for stories — a process otherwise known as reporting — and spun them as evidence of hidden coziness and perfidy.

In part, that’s confirmation bias at work: People who want to see things in a certain way will find reason to. But the power of context and framing is important here too.

When you’re told that a piece of information is a secret document, that you’re seeing raw information that was kept from you, there’s an unconscious signal that it’s unsavory. It was exposed, after all. And exposure is what happens to bad things. Who ever heard of anything good being exposed?

So when you see an excerpt tweeted or shared online, introduced with “BREAKING” and a key sentence or two highlighted, it sets off a conditioned reaction before you even read. These are the goods. This is the smoking gun right here — I’ve seen enough highlighted documents on “60 Minutes” to know what a smoking gun looks like!

But viral journalism, like old-fashioned journalism, requires consumer awareness and skepticism. Where there’s a smoking gun, there isn’t always fire.

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