In 2013, we saw how internet activists’ snap judgments about the interpretation (or misinterpretation?) of jokes at pycon destroyed the professional career of two individuals (Source: A Dongle Joke That Spiraled Way Out Of Control).
The internet activism first sympathized with Adria Richards and then decided to side with the developer, eventually, both of them (and SendGrid customers temporarily) took a major hit which could probably have been resolved offline and would have never become a part of permanent history.
As if this was not enough, this year the same story has been repeated with Gurubaksh Chahal and his girlfriend Juliet Kakish.
The claim goes that he allegedly hit his girlfriend 117 times and she allegedly suffered bruises and injuries, there is an alleged video of that proving the same (I haven’t been able to find one yet that does not imply it does not exist though) (Source: A Letter To The Board Members Of RadiumOne).
Gurubksh Chahal has alleged that she “was having unprotected sex for money with other people”, he also alleged that “the girl in question here, was herself so appalled by the false allegations made by the police, that she agreed to be photographed to demonstrate that there were no bruises or injuries”. He further alleged that “She called 9-11 after I told her I was going to contact her father regarding her activities.” (Source: Can you handle the truth?)
Note, the word “allegation” here. Everything above has just been alleged. No one knows what the reality is, apart from the fact that Gurubaksh was eventually charged with a misdemeanor (minor crime) and let off with 45 felonies (serious) counts.
Characters of two individuals have been questioned and destroyed, Forbes made a call for boycotting Radium One ad and all that just based on a set of allegations, and Slate asked for CEO Gurubaksh to step down.
Of course, the woman has not come out with her side of the story yet and that might add a radically new set of facts and perspectives that everyone could have missed.
First, our journalists lost the patience to do fact verification (not only of funny hoaxes but also of critically important stories like Project Prism stories) and now this clickwhoring has hit another low where stories are published based on allegations which make the perfect dessert for “140-character” generation of online skimmers.
A more fundamental question
The court of law has already acquitted him and now it’s just a game of allegations.
Think for a while
- What if SFPD’s allegations turn out to be wrong (or politically motivated)?
- What if Gurubaksh Chahal’s allegations are false?
- What if the woman involved comes out with her side of “allegations” which adds a radical twist to the story?
That’s the reason, why democracy has a concept of a well-trained judiciary to look at a case from all potential angles (remember the O. J. Simpson trial?).
If any one of these (or a more remote possibility which I cannot imagine right now) has happened, will any of the involved media apologize or correct their articles? Will that correction be of any impact on the minds of those who have already skimmed through the cheesy part and lost interest in this story?
Things would have been simpler had it not been for the permanence of the Internet. If not for the Internet, a few years from now, people would have forgotten the story.
Public vs Publicized
A few years back New Zealand court made a remarkable ruling saying that names of individuals accused of a crime can not be published online (still allowing them to be published offline), the reason given was that once they reach the Internet, they became permanent even though crime has not been proven yet (Note: I am unable to find the link despite repeated searches but I remember reading the news).
A lot of things that were public in the pre-Internet era can now easily be publicized, police mugshots of individuals end up online where they are asked to pay to get them removed (knowing that another website can still post them again).
Videos of intimate moments (made with consent) are later publicized in the form of revenge porn (See The most hated man on the Internet) and of course, either gender can be targeted (Payback: Upset Ex-Girlfriend Spams Boyfriend In Google Images)
The pre-Internet era laws never considered such situations where frictionless online sharing can be used to permanently destroy a person’s social or professional life.
Thoughts on (at least partially) fixing it
Let’s face it, anything which ends online will be permanent, laws can curtail things a bit but I believe at the least law enforcement institutions should reconsider their decision to make records of pending (or even solved cases where no major punishment was awarded) public, specifically, when they involve individuals.
After all, an individual’s character is too big to be left to the snap judgment of Internet activists.