The fading line between privacy and free speech | social media | Hindustan Times
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The fading line between privacy and free speech

social media Updated: Oct 22, 2012 02:16 IST
Gina Kolata

The most successful cities achieve a kind of organised chaos - a rich, dense and varied mix of different kinds of people, ideas and businesses, constantly colliding in new and interesting ways.

Jane Jacobs, an urban activist, made that observation in 1961 in her book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities".

Although she was describing cities built of bricks and mortar, her ideas about cultivating vibrancy feel relevant today, as most metropolises of the 21st century are being constructed online, where chaos is in no short supply.

The latest controversy surrounds Reddit, a community and social news site that lets members create and run their own forums on any topic, from movie news to politics to sharing nature photographs.

Reddit has come under fire for harbouring a forum that encourages people to covertly photograph women on the street and upload the images for others to ogle and comment. The pictures, nicknamed "creepshots", incited public outrage.

The skirmish has set off a debate about privacy and free speech, ownership and community, digital rights and accountability, touching upon issues of privilege and the undercurrents of power that course through the web.

Reddit is just one website but it wields a sizable chunk of influence online, playing an instrumental role in rallying the web to halt the progression of anti-piracy bills proposed by US Congress earlier this year. Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina, described the site as "the secret backbone of the Internet," which is why it is even more crucial that it be accountable for the environment it is fostering, she said.

"Reddit may not be the most visible site, but is a powerful platform," she said.

Such creepshots also appear on other places around the web, including Twitter.

And sites from YouTube to Instagram, the photo-sharing app, are grappling with how to address provocative content. As more of our life migrates online, the gap between who we are online and who we are offline is closing, said Katie Baker, a writer for Jezebel.