Entrepreneurship can be a lonely game and in the case of these young Canberran gents, it can be controversial too. Monish Parajuli and brothers Dayne Rathbone and Clyde Rathbone (pictured above) are in the latter stages of developing a website which’s primary function is to publically evaluate human beings.
As I sat to chew the fat with the three business partners I couldn’t help but think that Orwell was somehow, somewhere, listening…
Karma aims to give honest reviews about people; not reviews about products or plays or food, but people.
After satisfying a rigorous process to verify one’s identity, a person can log on to read and write appraisals on other human beings. Once an appraisal is published on the site it too can be appraised with comments and a tick to indicate the reader’s approval or disapproval – a digital democracy perhaps.
Obviously such an endeavour gives rise to numerous political, social, legal, and ethical questions.
From a legal perspective, Karma is a tinderbox of defamation cases. Generally speaking, defamation laws protect your reputation by disallowing false information about you to be published. If a publisher is asked to remove potentially damaging material, and it refuses to do so, the publisher may then become liable for any damage caused. As a result, Karma will remove any published material if it is so requested… but, the catch is that it will publicise details of the fact that you have requested that the material be removed. By no means is this strategy a full proof firewall against legal cases but, it’s a start.
The development of the website is as much the result of a shared world view as it is a determination to succeed in the online market. Karma’s mission is stated on the home page of the website: “Our mission is to help create a more informed, accountable, and honest world.”
But is creating a forum where people can write whatever they like about another person ethical or not?
Comedian and generally clever guy Dayne Rathbone says that “transparent societies are more likely to behave ethically, and we should all be working together to celebrate the good in the world whilst protecting each other from potentially harmful experiences.”
But is it as ethical to apply the same notion of transparency to institutions, authorities, and companies as we would to an individual citizen? For instance, it is certainly of public importance that we know how much influence Rupert Murdoch or Gina Rinehart has over Australian Governments, but is it as important that we know the sexual preferences, or medications, of a school teacher or police officer?
The business partners contend that Karma is unique when compared to other similar websites such as LinkedIn or Facebook.
Because the website places an exclusive focus on an individual’s personhood through the eyes of others, it attempts to operate as a deterrent to anonymity – where it is quite easy to create a fake Facebook, Gmail, or LinkedIn account and troll with gay abandon.
Former Wallabies and ACT Brumbies player Clyde Rathbone contends that although one’s first impression may be to the contrary, it would be unwise to lie, make false accusations, or to bully people through Karma. His reasoning is that those who post “slander” and “junk comments” will be realised and appraised accordingly.
“Any review site that wants to maintain a high level of authenticity needs to live up to those ideals, and that’s what Karma does more than many other websites,” he says.
“Heaps of websites are already doing what we are proposing, they’re just not doing it very well.”
On that point, I agree with him.
Where existing websites allow users to create their own profiles or identities, Karma’s function relies on the premise that the collective interpretations of a person’s identity will be a more accurate reflection of who a person really is – and therefor, more ethical.
Monish Parajuli, and Dayne and Clyde Rathbone are certainly an intelligent and driven team. Regardless of whether or not this idea frightens the hell out of you, if their only goal was to inspire people to think then they are instant success stories.
The success of Karma will depend on the team’s ability to assuage people’s fears while maintaining people’s interest. Remember, we will be judging you. 😉