Actor Salman Khan is learning, not the easy way, about how the Internet works. Two instances in the last few days have shone the spotlight on the actor’s (or his legal team’s) recent moves on the Internet, involving a hit-and-run case which is currently sub-judice:

Contempt Of Court Case Against A Blog Khan Set Up

Hemant Patel, an activist, a complaint seeking action against Khan for launching a website with information on his hit-and-run court, which he says is contempt of court. A few days ago, Khan had launched Salman KhanFiles.com, where, at this point in time, there are three updates related to the hit-and-run Court case he is currently the prime accused in. The website claims that it is addressing inaccurate and misleading media reports, and his lawyers will be publishing factual information on the website, without comments or the intention to influence anyone.

I’m no lawyer, but I don’t see what is wrong with doing this: given that media reports on celebrities are sensationalized, the website appears (at this point in time, if it hasn’t been changed) to only share updates on court orders. The information on the website appears to be fact-driven, and quite obviously updated by lawyers.

Strategically, it appears to do two things – control the conversation and reduce the distortion by being a primary source of information, and make that information available to everyone. Typically, facts get distorted or lost in the Chinese-whispers that is modern day reporting and re-reporting (not based on primary information; similar to blogging and re-blogging), and Khan is attempting to reduce the number of layers (and hence distortion) between himself and the reader. The way TV in particular works is that it often to blows things out of proportion while trying to garner eyeballs and TRPs.

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The blog allows Khan to provide the media and people with an alternative (albeit quite a drab one). This is also what Twitter also does, and why we find many celebrities and politicians on it – it gives control to the celebrity (or the brand), instead of them depending on the media, which can be selective.

The Internet is People Media, and if you don’t like what the media is saying, start a blog or start tweeting.

I don’t know whether it is contempt of court, but it’s not like our judicial system has juries that might get influenced by what they read online. If the newspapers can publish about the case (and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to), I don’t see why Salman Khan’s legal team should not be allowed to publish these facts online.

Getting A Blog Post Taken Down And The Streisand Effect

Where Khan’s got it wrong was in getting a blog post taken down. BollywoodJournalist.com had published a post about a constable who was a witness in this particular case, and how, allegedly, he was under pressure to change his statement against Khan, was driven to drink, his family disowned him, and how he eventually died. This post and another one were taken down after Khan, as per the blogger, contacted him.

There’s no statement on whether there was a legal threat from the blogger against Khan, but Soumyadipta Banerjee, who had posted that report, mentioned that the last two days were excruciating for him, and he has also issued a public apology.

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But then the Internet took over: Google cache’s of the now removed blog post have been circulated all over social networks, copies of it have been posted on forums. If a few hundred people had read this post before it was taken down, now it would be in the hundreds of thousands. This is the Streisand effect. Demands for “a public apology” are a part of standard legal notices, and lawyers who don’t know how the Streisand effect works need to take their head out of the sand.

This is the other side of People Media – if people see that you’re being a bully (or being evil), especially if you’re a celebrity, they will form a mob and go on a rampage against you. There is no way out after a mob takes over, and even if you take a few people down, legally, that will only add fuel to the fire. You can take on a few, thinking you might make an example of them, but you’ll never be able to deal with millions. If you shut down one platform, another will arise. To be fair, though, there is no predicting how this will work.

Sometimes, it’s better to stay silent.