The Information Age has created an unprecedented technical ability to rapidly disseminate information. This speed is both powerful and dangerous. Powerful in its reach, dangerous in its ramifications. A good example of this is when misleading information is spread through this medium:
Disinformation (ds-nfr-mshn) n.
1.Deliberately misleading information announced publicly or leaked by a government or especially by an intelligence agency in order to influence public opinion or the government in another nation.
2. The dissemination of such misleading information.
When associated with a malignant intent, I would more appropriately term it dysinformation. Dysinformation is an intentional, targeted effort to create confusion around or away from the truth. Instead of enlightening, it darkens our understanding. Instead of enlarging our minds, it diminishes our knowledge. The campaign to erode the truth can be insidious whispering campaigns or overt propaganda fliers. When purposefully directed at individuals or intentionally designed to malign character, it crosses the line into defamation and slander. When corporations throw their weight behind attacks on individual employees, it is akin to the malicious use of an imbalance of power which is often the root of sexual harassment cases.
Fortunately, the internet provides a potent medium to counteract this traditional power imbalance. The ability of the individual to stand against the corporate machine is dramatically enhanced. It allows an individual to have a forum to shine the light of truth on disinformation injustices – small, large, and every variety in between. This has been seen again and again where individuals or individual causes, can galvanize an entire community around the cause. In fact, the cause can take on a life of its own, far beyond and in ways the original individual or the maligning corporation never imagined. Many a corporation have been brought to their proverbial knees – and individuals unjustly accused redeemed – by this phenomenon. An unsettling acceleration of populist opinion that can actually engender change within corporations of any size – merely by getting the truth into the hands of the people.
The ability of the individual to generate this type of galvanizing response correlates with the “viscerality” (ability of an issue to generate a visceral response) of the issue at hand. A hot topic of late has been the “Outing of Open Source Companies.” Multiple people have commented about the wonders of Open Source to the point that everyone states they are an new Open Source company with an new open source strategy. Maybe even worse than someone transforming their business model to become Open Source is a company who claims to be Open Source (and surf the rising tide) but who demonstrates by their actions they are not. The label most typically applied in other settings to this type of behavior is that of a groupie (doing your best to look, act, and be a star purely by association).
Just as the proverbial “with enough eyes all bugs are shallow” idiom rings true, in an open source world, the truth will eventually prevail. Despite the massive R&D and S&M budgets of large corporations, in Open Source individual contributors can call out the dysinformation in powerful ways. While the fury directed to Micro$oft is often warranted, a real tornado of hate is engendered against infiltration within the Open Source ranks. The community takes especial care to protect their own – outing a groupie for who and what they are, is a function (not a byproduct) of operating in an Open Source world.
The transparency and the meritocracy of Open Source demands this. The individual developer in his underwear in Slovenia, watchdogs users challenging the proprietary tendencies of corporations, and an industry pundits are all empowered to re-engineer the dysinformation (in this case Open Source companies functioning as closed source). Any one individual participating in solo or in concert can counteract the disinformation by leveraging the tools of the new information trade (blogs, posting boards, forums, conference, etc). Power to the (individual) people, indeed.
In the end, the Open Source community could care less about you as an individual, as a corporation, or the worthiness of your cause. The collective conscious of Open Source communities has an insatiable desire for the truth – because – they just want to be free (libre).