Jun 29, 2009
The New York Times has run a story on David Rohde, a journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. From November of 2008 to June this year, the NY Times had scrambled to keep information of his kidnapping from being publicized, for fear that the kidnappers would use this to their advantage, and potentially endangering the life of Mr. Rohde.
Times executives believed that publicity would raise Mr. Rohde’s value to his captors as a bargaining chip and reduce his chance of survival. Persuading another publication or a broadcaster not to report the kidnapping usually meant just a phone call from one editor to another, said Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times.
But Wikipedia, which operates under the philosophy that anyone can be an editor, and that all information should be public, is a vastly different world.
The article stressed how difficult it was for Wikipedia’s staff to keep Mr. Rohde’s Wikipedia profile sanitized, due to persistence by several editors (in the case of Wikipedia, virtually anyone who knows how to edit an article on the site) in including information of his kidnapping. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, himself, intervened in this activity.
While I understand that the intent of the editors in adding the kidnap information to the Wikipedia profile is in keeping information freely available to everyone, I think people should consider the implications of such freedom of information if lives would be at stake.
So in this case, it’s either you keep the world informed or you keep one person alive. Sure, posting about a kidnapping on Wikipedia might not necessarily mean the death of the victim. But are you willing to risk it?
I don’t understand the persistence of the Wikipedia editors who kept trying to insert this piece of information into Mr. Rodhe’s profile. While they probably had no ill will, they may not also have realized that their actions could potentially lead to trouble–even death–on the part of the kidnapped journalist. Perhaps if the Wikipedia administrators could have explained why such information would be sensitive, the would-be-editors would have relented. But they claim they had no way of raising this point without creating a big public issue out of it.
If you ask me, I’d choose life over freedom of expression or information. Then, perhaps, when the person concerned is no longer in danger, that’s the time one can freely write about the situation. When you refer to David Rohde’s Wikipedia profile today, it already includes information on his kidnapping and escape.
This makes me realize–I should think and rethink before hitting that “publish” button on a blog post, tweet or just about any piece of online communication, private or public. Before you hit “send,” think about the effects and implications of what you are sending.