Copy and paste for all

Neelie Kroes, the European Union’s Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, yesterday invited former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to “promote internet freedom globally”.
Mr zu Guttenberg is an interesting choice for this position. It doesn’t take much digging through his CV, even for non-German-speakers, to find that he has had personal – and recent – experience of the power of the internet. It was barely a year ago that a web-based collaboration of scientists and citizens demonstrated that Mr zu Guttenberg’s doctoral thesis was shamelessly plagiarised from over 130 different sources. There is barely a page in the work that doesn’t contain a plagiarised passage. Nearly two thirds of the text are copy-and-pasted – unattributed – from a variety of other works, including the essay of a first-year student and the writings of some of Mr zu Guttenberg’s party colleagues. Ultimately, this cost Mr zu Guttenberg his job as Defence Minister back in March.
Commissioner Kroes justified her choice of consultant saying she wanted “talent, not saints”. Yet surely the fact that Mr zu Guttenberg’s doctoral thesis is barren of original thought shows that the one thing he lacks is talent. Given the challenges facing online activists in authoritarian regimes, one has to question Ms Kroes’ judgement on this matter. In a world where news is constantly manipulated to somebody’s advantage, trust is the rarest of commodities. Any blogger or activist wishing to be truly effective, to really touch and inspire people, needs to earn their readers’ trust while at the same time walking the fine line of ensuring their own personal safety. Disappearances and crackdowns on Chinese bloggers illustrate the importance of anonymity for personal safety. Conversely, the case of “Amina Arraf” or “Gay Girl in Damascus” – a blog which turned out to be run by a middle-aged American man – shows both the potential of the internet to truly touch people, and the disappointment which results when trust between blogger and reader is breached.
Ultimately, when the commodity you are trading in is trust, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is the last person you want fighting your corner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *