Many people have spoken out about the freedom of speech and the freedom to voice out our opinions on the internet. I have read the blogpost against which the legal notice was served. It did criticize the manner in which reporting of event was undertaken by Barkha Dutt. But more importantly, it did so by quoting what was shown on the television, it highlighted the allegations that were presented against her in her Wikipedia entry.
Wikipedia, from what I know is an open repository of knowledge, where-in the veracity of any information can be discussed, debated, and denounced. It is by no means a Read-only collection of articles written by one person or one group. The articles that we see on the Wikipedia are products of discussion , which sometimes are heated, over what is the right information and more importantly what’s the right way to inform it.
Such is the nature of open systems. For someone who has worked in open source for almost three years now, I can say that, if someone submits a piece of malicious/stupid/rubbish code to the Linux kernel mailing list, intentionally or otherwise, one doesn’t sue that person for trying to undermine the credibility of the Linux operating system. There are other means of correction. One can criticizes the code and point out the problems with it. Should the code be accepted for some reason, on finding out the problem with at a later point in time, there is an opportunity to correct it. That’s the meaning and intent of open systems. If there’s something wrong, the system provides you with the right to make it right.
I cannot see much of a difference between this culture that we open source coders have been following on the internet for all these many years versus that of bloggers posting what they thinks is their take on an issue. I don’t deny that some posts might hurt people’s sentiments. But it’s not like the open system is forcing you to be a victim. On the contrary, it offers you a means to correction. There are multiple ways to counter it. Starting from commenting on the blogpost which hurt your sentiments and trying to steer it towards a meaningful discussion if possible, or countering the arguments made by the post on your own blog. Given the nature of the system, one will find opinions highlighting all the sides of the issue. One got to see an example of this on this facebook forum where the exact same topic was discussed.
Now coming to credibility. According to Wikipedia (emphasis mine)
Traditionally, credibility has two key components: trustworthiness and expertise, which both have objective and subjective components. Trustworthiness is a based more on subjective factors, but can include objective measurements such as established reliability. Expertise can be similarly subjectively perceived, but also includes relatively objective characteristics of the source or message (e.g., credentials, certification or information quality). Secondary components of credibility include source dynamism (charisma) and physical attractiveness.
So, a person’s credibility does include a component which is the sum of the subjective opinions what the stake-holders have about the person. Now, if the stake-holders are not allowed to honestly voice out their opinions, pray, how do we suppose one’s true credibility be determined?
Also, credibility is not the same of privacy. So long as I am not intruding into the private space of an individual by divulging information which is not supposed to be known to others, which can damage the individual’s reputation, I am well within my rights to have an opinion on any material that’s there on the public domain or which is in my private domain and I do have every right to voice out that opinion, whatever be the medium. It is important here to note that before the arrival of the internet and particularly the read-write-web, it was the medium which was preventing me from effectively voicing out my opinion, and not the lack of my fundamental right.
When we are moving towards an open system which truly aims at empowering “We the people”, when such a system provides means to correct any aberrations, I feel that one should make use of the provisions within the system to make such corrections. Filing a suit is not only a shallow, but also a retrograde response just like how, in a constitutional system, taking the law to ones own hands is.
I suggest that Ms Dutt and NDTV reconsider their opinion on this whole issue and understand that the internet has only made the playground more flatter. A flat playground would mean both good and bad. Good, because it allows us to get our point across without having an inclination to subscribe to a particular ideology and bad, because now we gotta to take up the responsibility of doing the fire fighting ourselves.
I don’t mind that responsibility, because I believe that it’s a small price to pay for freedom, which is priceless.