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Summary:

Whether it’s publishing stolen business plans or breaking publicist embargoes, Techcrunch is notorious for its take-no-prisoners approach to…

Aol and TechCrunch logos

Whether it’s publishing stolen business plans or breaking publicist embargoes, Techcrunch is notorious for its take-no-prisoners approach to online journalism.

But the audacious blog may have lost its nerve amid a firestorm of criticism over a salacious story about sexual misconduct.

A Techcrunch article published Friday that rehashed sexual-assault allegations made online by a Google (NSDQ: GOOG) employee has disappeared from the AOL-owned blog with no further explanation.

While links to the story, “Googler Accuses Twitter Engineer Of Sexual Assault, Trial By Twitter Commences,” are easily found all over the internet, they lead to a dead URL on Techcrunch with no sign of the original content, just a “Page Not Found” label.

If the dead link isn’t just a coincidental glitch, taking down the story marks an unusual move from the blog, and not just because its resident technology experts would know that a cached version of the unpublished story is easily retrievable from select search engines by its web-savvy readership. Techcrunch has built a reputation for its raw and edgy reporting and commentary, a style founder Michael Arrington assured his readers would not go away once he sold the company to AOL (NYSE: AOL) in September.

Techcrunch and myriad other online publications are typically transparent about stories that receive substantial corrections or changes. We contacted Arrington, the article’s author, staff writer Alexia Tsotsis, and co-editor Erick Schonfeld seeking clarification on the disappearance of the story, and will let you know what they say if we hear back from them.

The story in question, written by Tsotsis, repeats the allegations contained in a blog post penned by a woman who identifies herself as a Google technical writer–and also links the blog post itself. In vivid detail, she recounts an encounter at a bar in Atlanta, where the technology conference ApacheCon was taking place, in which a man she identifies by name and as a “Twitter engineer,” makes an unsolicited sexual advance that she rejects. At the very end of the post, she also indicates she contacted the police, but doesn’t specify whether she filed a formal complaint.

In her account of the allegations, Tsotsis names both the accuser and the accused; she also closes the article with an indication that she reached out to the accused male for his side of the story. The story was quickly bombarded with 172 posts in the comments section beneath the article, many of which sharply criticized the author and Techcrunch for publishing the story without any corroboration, particularly from police, and for naming names.

Since Techcrunch picked up the story, a handful of other publications–WebProNews, VeryRite, Examiner.com–have also written stories about the woman’s allegations, which first exploded as a subject of major interest on Reddit and Hacker News. Those publications, including another blog brand known for its rough-and-tumble manner, Gawker, have stuck by the story. The Gawker story, for instance, not only names both individuals, but features a photo of both accused and accuser.

We have contacted Gawker editors for comment of their own decision as well.

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  1. A chronology of which stories preceded which (suggesting causation) should probably note the story originally surfaced on Reddit http://bit.ly/bvb5DB , where it received more comments than on TechCrunch, as well as Hacker News http://bit.ly/avgBe8 . [ Update: the above post was edited after I commented to mention Reddit and Hacker News. ]

  2. Sue Anne Reed Sunday, November 7, 2010

    I did find it interesting that TechCrunch unpublished the story … especially knowing how many sites “scrape” the content, so it wasn’t like they were deleting the content completely. As people develop large followings on the Internet, stories like this can spread fairly quickly. One person’s allegation can immediately reach thousands — or millions — of people within a few hours. It’s not like the alleged accuser is famous, other than in the tech universe, but he now has the stink of this type of allegation without much recourse.

  3. Too bad. So quickly TC has changed. The story was ridiculous, but the two are separate issues.

  4. There may have been legal reasons; if the allegations are untrue, they are considered libel, and TechCrunch could be found liable for publishing them.

  5. netgain advisors Sunday, November 7, 2010

    I doubt TechCrunch would be libel for reporting information that is sourced.

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