One thing that doesn’t cease to amaze me is the way in which many CS users react to Pickwick’s recent announcement to report the fraudulent actions of CouchSurfing International inc. to the New Hampshire District Attorney. Besides the deafening silence by He Whose Opinion Matters, two kinds of responses are noticeably frequent:
- What that you ever did for CouchSurfing.com entitles you to take this kind of action?
- What is your interest in harming CouchSurfing.com?
To me these reactions indicate that the community at large does not recognise a crucial difference between civil litigation and criminal prosecution. The former is a legal procedure between two parties, each with their private interests; the latter is between ‘the people’ and whoever harms the public interest.
That’s right, the public interest, and CS users would do good to realise that they are the public here. Just some points for consideration:
- If you decide to donate a (substantial) amount of money to CouchSurfing because you think it is a charity, only to find out it isn’t because the IRS fines you for illicit tax deductions, your interest is being harmed.
- If you decide to donate valuable time as a volunteer to CouchSurfing because you think it is a charity, only to find out you’ve made a fool of yourself because you put free slaving on your resume, your interest is being harmed.
- If Casey decides to sell your user data to a third party for a neat sum, and this party turns out to be a spammer, your interest is being harmed.
- If you decide to donate code and programming effort to CouchSurfing because you’re an idealist and you believe in its cause, only to find out that Casey sells CouchSurfing International inc. to a large commercial player that turns CS into a paid service, your interest is being harmed.
To return to the responses I started with, it will be clear that the potential harm to the public interest is all the moral entitlement Pickwick needs for his actions. Second, they aren’t even his actions to begin with, let alone they could serve a private interest; if the New Hampshire DA sees sufficient reason to prosecute, they are the public’s actions.