The world had barely stopped chattering about photographs that showed the Duchess of Cambridge appearing topless while on vacation, when some mindless idiot posted a video film called Innocence of Muslims that vilified the Prophet Muhammad. The Middle East exploded with incendiary violence and an enlightened American diplomat was killed. Had the films producers never heard of Salman Rushdie? Or a certain Danish cartoonist? What were they thinking? But more importantly where is that fine balance between freedom of speech and collective good?
Julian Assange, editor and founder of WikiLeaks found himself in questionable territory when he chose to publish US military information illegally obtained. Flash to China ten years ago when Beijing’s state security bureau sent a request to Yahoo! for information regarding the creator of an online forum, as well as email registrations and messages. Yahoo! complied, resulting in the arrest of Wang Xiaoning, an advocate for democracy who had used the forum and email accounts to press for free elections. Much vilified at the time for caving in to Chinese pressure, today, Yahoo! along with Microsoft and Google has joined Global Networks Initiative, an organization that has laid out principles of demarcation for free expression and online privacy.
How are these seemingly unrelated events linked? As information is instantly available online to anyone anywhere in the world, it demanded a new moral coda to guide our online activity. Ethical responsibility rests with the individual to avoid prurient curiosity and vote with your touch screen. Don’t go looking for those pictures of Kate Middleton. And if Yahoo! can give away the confidentiality of an innocent protester – why not block a provocative film. Yes, freedom of information matters. But the right to free expression and access to information could benefit from the expression of tolerance, respect and moral indignation.