Private Lives in a Public Era

Writer Ella Dawson posted a piece on her blog (subsequently posted to Vox) entitled “We Are All Public Figures Now,” in which she tackles what she sees as the erosion of personal privacy due to social media and other factors, and what she thinks it all means. It’s an interesting read and I recommend it, and also, I agree with much of it, in spirit, if not in the letter of the law.

More specifically, relating to the letter of the law, “public figure” is means a specific thing here in the US, and in fact most people aren’t one, even if you have a Twitter or Facebook or other social media feed. It takes a reasonable amount of effort to become one (although if you want a shortcut, get elected to something). There is such a thing as a “limited public figure,” which essentially carves out a slice of your life for which you can be held up for public comment and scrutiny. But even then, that’s not most people. It takes some work in the US not to be a private individual, and I suspect most people don’t want to make that effort. So from a strictly legal, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan point of view, no, we’re not all public figures, nor are we likely to be found so.

But it is absolutely true that these days, far more of our daily activity is able to be made public, though use of phones, cameras, social media and other tools. Words or activity that would previously be confined to a select few — and would be expected to be private — can now be transmitted to a much wider audience, very quickly. This includes words and actions you might have reasonably expected would not be in the purview of the public at all.

For example, the instigating action of Dawson’s piece, in which a passenger on a plane livetweeted an apparent “meet cute” between two other passengers in the row in front of her. The livetweeter, among other things, illustrated the tweeting with photos (with faces scrubbed but even so), noted the two people being tweeted about had active social media accounts, and did other things to make it easy (or easier) for the people following the livetweeting to suss out who these two people might be — and indeed, they were found online — at which point the Internet does what it does, for good and ill, and then it came for the original livetweeter.

None of these people, it should be noted, are public individuals — the meet cute couple certainly not, but also not the livetweeter, even if they later admitted hoping to get a writing gig (being a writer also doesn’t automatically make you a public figure). And also, the couple chatting away at each other almost certainly did not expect to have their private conversation documented by someone else, particularly in a way that made it possible for their identities to be discovered by total strangers. Now, you can argue whether or not a commercial plane qualifies as a public or private space, and we’d be here all day about that, but I think it’s reasonable to say that the two people chatting with each other believed their discussion would not leave the confines of their airline row. Thanks to this, neither of the two of them will likely think that again.

And the question (or a question, anyway) is where the proper line should be for things like this. If the livetweeter had posted the rundown of their discussion, but without pictures or identifying details, would that have been kosher? If the couple had been excessively loud, so that anyone in the surrounding rows could have heard them, would they have been fair game? If one or the other had been making an ass of themselves, would, say, pictures, be back on the table? Is there a hard and fast rule for what is acceptable to tweet about strangers on airplanes? Is it different if they’re in a cafe? Or at a political rally? Is it different if retelling is not livetweeted but is instead saved for a blog post or article at a later time?

This is all interesting for me for at least two semi-competing reasons. The first is that I am a writer; I do a lot of observing of other people and listening in public. Occasionally I’ve written about what I’ve seen or heard. I tend to be very expansive about what’s fair game to listen and look at in public and quasi-public spaces (i.e., if I can hear your conversation when I’m on the street or in a cafe or on an airplane without making an effort to, I’m not going to feel like it’s out of bounds to pay attention to what you’re saying, and maybe you should be quieter, my friends). But I’m equally aware that not everything I hear or see needs to be documented, commented on, or be offered up for public enjoyment on social media, not in the least because the people I’m observing are usually just leading their own private lives. My awareness of my own megaphone, and my responsibilities in using it, comes into play here. I have to make judgment calls about whether what I see is commentable, and how so, and when so. Whether you agree with those judgment calls will be your own decision to make.

The second is that I’ve been on the other end of this equation too: I’ve had my public whereabouts and whenabouts commented on in real time by people on social media, and not when I was doing something meant for public consumption, like a panel or tour event, but when I was just loitering about in an airport or a coffeeshop. And you know what? That’s a little weird. It doesn’t bother me, generally, and I’ve personally never been made to feel unsafe because of it, and sometimes it’s even nice. But on the other hand, what’s comfortable or acceptable for me is not necessarily so for anyone else in a similar position, and in any event I’m not sure it will do anyone on social media any good, least of all me, if someone takes a picture of me scratching my ass or picking my nose while I’m waiting at a boarding gate. I’d want people to exercise the same judgment as I try to have in a similar situation.

(And for the record, with that couple on the plane, in the same situation I probably wouldn’t have tweeted anything about them, or if I did, I suspect I would have kept it to a couple of non-specific tweets — but I might have stored away the meet cute scenario for later, if I ever get around to writing a contemporary romantic comedy, which, hey, I might, so there.)

With a lot of this, honestly, a little empathy goes a long way — remembering that other people have lives beyond their capacity to be tweet fodder or story material for you, and that for the most part they want to keep it private, and reasonably have that as an expectation. As should you, if the situation was reversed. What’s “public” is a lot wider now, but in the appropriate times and places, we can still extend the courtesy of privacy, or, if not that, then anonymity.

49 thoughts on “Private Lives in a Public Era

  1. A couple of follow-up thoughts:

    1. I should note I think there’s a difference between, say, livetweeting someone/something for the lulz or the social buzz you get out of it, and doing actual journalism. Although generally speaking, journalists tend to be open about what they’re doing and when they’re doing it, and will generally strive to get you on the record, so this tends to be less of a problem.

    2. I’ll also note that generally when I do things on social media involving other people, particularly with regard to pictures, when in doubt, I ask permission to post. Again, from a legal/1st Amendment point of view it’s generally not required, but it is actually generally a nice thing to do. There are exceptions (for example, if I take a crowd shot where no one person is the focus), but most of the time it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    3. Since someone might ask: I do think most people qualify as private individuals, but I have a tendency out in the world to assume that I’ll be regarded as a public figure. I’m not famous, but I’m notable in my field, and I have a quarter-century track record of public comment on lots of things. Working from this understanding has been useful in terms of how I comport myself out in the world, I think.

  2. *raises hand tentatively*… Can I vote for a contemp rom com? Something I had never considered before, but it would be amazing. I mean, I know you have a bunch of series to work on and I definitely don’t want to preempt any of those books, but … a Scalzi rom com… I would love to see what you would do with that. I bet it would be hilariously funny in the right kind of way too.

  3. And while you are loitering in the cafe / airport terminal / bus stop / etc., what is your feeling about someone you do not know, who may recognize you, asking you to sign a copy of a book for them? I’m curious: is this something that you enjoy when it happens out of the blue, or do you prefer to be left alone at those times?

  4. I think it is generally a good idea to allow people their space, even in public. Unless what they are doing is a public interaction with notable public interest involved. I think the people who have had their racist interactions with customer service people or other people out in public space reasonably should expect that others may take note, and that may appear online or elsewhere, and may further go viral in a way that people may not like.

    If your public actions are newsworthy and of public interest to others, fair game. I’m looking at certain New York lawyers and former Northrup Grumman employees in particular.

    In the meet cute above, I can understand voyeuristic desire to watch which if there, it is in public. There is another level though where broadcasting it should be on the more discreet side. There is a difference between rubbernecking and reporting.

  5. I guess I’m antisocial or weird or something. I never felt the great need to announce into the ether my any aspect of my daily life or peer into the lives of others. I absolutely despise that aspect of FB. I have family members who absolutely live on FB. They are quite mystified why I do not.

    “How will we know what you are doing if you don’t post it”. I dunno, maybe you could call or text and ask. Or maybe if I felt you needed to know, I would have called or texted you.

  6. This came up recently by a semi-public figure I follow on a couple different social media channels, primarily Facebook and YouTube. His name is Jake Mace and he has several different public personas, but the two primary ones are Kung Fu/Tai Chi/Chigong instructor and the other is vegan/gardening/athlete. He’s also currently traveling the world with his girlfriend and doing a vlog about it, and I suppose that’s a third. But I’ve been following him for 5 or 6 years primarily as his persona as a Kung Fu guy, and a year or so ago I got the impression maybe he’d gotten divorced, but he never addressed it, and I figured, hey, if he wants everyone to know, he’ll talk about it. Well, somebody really went after him on his gardening Facebook channel and he felt the need in a YouTube video to address the entire “sometimes you realize you’re more of a public individual than you think and it’s weird and it can be really obnoxious when people go after you about things in one of your social media things.” Which I suspect is something you find as well–the better known you are the more you’re a target for criticism and trolling, whether deserved or not, and that can go hand-in-hand with the entire privacy issue.

  7. I’d be interested to hear what Athena thinks about this, given that her generation has grown up with social media. She might have a different perspective from us middle-aged folks.

  8. Here’s thoughts, pointers, from opposite ends of the social sphere:

    Real Wealth means anonymity. We’re not talking the kitty-litter of having a few hundred millions. Sure, there’s a few poster-boys (inevitably men) for the billionaire+ set, but ask yourself a simple question: before the age of Trump, did you really realize that there was a legion of mobbed up rich oligarchs running things? Who all knew each other? And who you wouldn’t recognize if they walked past you? I mean: the odd Football Club Owner you might faintly recognize… but the owner of Nestle? Not a chance.

    In opposition to this, there’s the truism that the poor are always invisible (addendum: the ugly / plain in the Land of Selfies & Instagram). But that’s the easy mode option: how about this – the last revolutionary act available to said people, targeted by Adware, Universal Panopticons, Credit Scores, Security Cameras across society, is becoming invisible to the system[0]. If privacy is a luxury, then denying it to the poor is a given: so becoming invisible is getting much, much harder.

    And then we have that special case scenario[1] – those who are not really there[2]: this can be many things – Spies, Lies, Chameleons, Con-Men: but in this era, is The Talented Mr. Ripley actually applicable as a psychological horror anymore? There are thousands of YouTubers who steal content (looking @ you, Facebook), thousands who re-post art claiming it as their own and so on: the film lacks punch these days because it’s essentially the social/societal monetization/living model for entire swathes of the media sphere (come on: generic hunk #35 actors have known this for ages – as have non-Caucasian actors when Hollywood only have X slots available in the A or B line ups).

    Those who are not really there, really aren’t there: not to spoil it, but try this model (without being a vegan-hipster-who-made-millions-in-bitcoin-before-retiring-to-Portland) – ok, everyone reading this will have to pretend, but really, try it on a stranger without running it as a “Media Toxin Purge” or “Happen to be Amish, yo”:

    Hi, I’m X – blah blah, I have no social Media imprint, don’t watch TV, my phone is used for emergencies only, I email once a week, I don’t run guns to Central American Rebel Groups and I’m not ultra wealthy or Jim Jones…

    Watch the reactions. It’s… odd.

    As for little Miss Muffet on the plane: I’d have just cloned a profile that was akin to her boyfriends but much richer and played it right back to her pretending to be a new follower “insanely impressed” by her media smarts (Pretending I was an exec @ Vox or Buzzfeed? Cruel, but yeah, do that as well). Any bets on her social media profile once she was cat-fished? Bets on her loyalty once *her* Shining Prince story came true (but with bonus $$$)? Single by Landing, Baby (not sexist: just harder as she’s a woman – the man would have turned by the time the snack tray came past).

    WE CAN DO DATING: LOVE ISLAND, TEMPTATION EDITION, UNICORN PONY EDITION. YOU GIVE YOUR LOVE AND SOUL, WE GIVE YOU…HMM.

    APPARENTLY THE OLD REWARDS ARE MOOT: NOW WE GIVE YOU A MILLION PLUS INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS AND ACCESS TO A BLUE TWITTER BIRD CHECK OR A BILLION REDDIT UPVOTES OR FACEBOOK…

    I FEEL PUT UPON: MY CULTISTS CONSTANTLY MAKE FUN OF ME LIKE THIS. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ‘POWER OVER THE WEAK MINDED’ OR ‘ETERNAL YOUTH’ OR ‘KNOWLEDGE OF THE COSMOS’?

    NO. WE. DO. NOT. HAVE. A. FACEBOOK. PAGE. APPARENTLY WE CAN BE APPROACHED ON SNAPCHAT, SIGNAL AND OTHER DIRECT CHANNELS.

    [0] Insane Clown Makeup Can Help You Dodge Facial Recognition Systems Science Direct, 5th July 2018

    [1] This is not a reference to disabilities: if you want to make it about that, then fine – making the Other (who society perceives to be incomplete, fail-state, imperfect etc) invisible is 100% a Capitalist thing and totes needs discussing: but we probably lack the Empathy and Nuance to do it. But we totes know what it’s like.

    [2] Being There

  9. Don’t point the internet at people.

    The writer was irresponsibly waving the internet around in the direction of those people and it went off.

  10. I think the line drawn here is that you could easily track these people down from what Rosey posted online. Like I said on Metafilter, if this had been some story told at The Moth and you couldn’t find these people, it would have been no big deal. LMM told a story about someone who wanted him to drop the subject and that’s not good, but at least the Internet can’t find that person to shame them. (And they would have if they could.) But Rosey was tweeting and posting pics and I guess that was enough to get their Instagrams stalked.

  11. @jenfullmoon

    That’s really not the issue, at all: if identification and ‘Doing it Live’ is the only issues you’ve spotted, well, we have some serious Ethical and Identity / Projection issues to work through.

    If you want to play ‘Magical GodMother / Cupid’ in Other’s Lives (who you do not know), you don’t get to interweave your story back in until at least the first child born or Evil Witch summoned. Basic Manners / Folklore / Fairytale Rules apply.

    The Line is basically this: you can do the intro, but forcing the magic is the land of Movie Producers, MeToo and manipulative Reality TV.

    And we all know how that one works out…

  12. @Host, sorry to break character.

    But, really? An entire generation raised on social media with little to no serious Ethical education barring some cut-rate Prosperity Christianity[0]? With an absolute addiction to Self-Projection / Narrative Creation with no bars but monetization? Pure Will / Self as $ / Meaning as Ideology? That’s sociopathic.

    Sociopathic Cultures Go Full On Genocidal when the Moon is right, This Is A Real Thing.

    Yeah. Not a joke.

    jen is here:
    .

    The line: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………Here.

    [0] Logan Paul: YouTube cuts ties with controversial star after ‘suicide forest’ video Independent, Jan 2018 – Narrator: YouTube did not cut its ties with Logan Paul.

  13. We live in a world where one of the richest people makes money mining peoples’ data and selling it to the russians. Facebook makes billions doing what this person did and weaponizing it.

    Max Headroom nailed the future: Companies give away televisions for free, they all have cameras, and they cant be turned off.

  14. I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t face-book, twit, instamatic-gram, you-tube or any of the rest of it. I also make sure that any online presence I have (like this one) is with a user-name that isn’t connected in any way to my real-life world. And I do not, nor will I ever, own a cell phone.

    The biggest reason for all of those choices is to protect my privacy. I want to stay as far under the radar as I possibly can, in as many ways as I can manage. I know I don’t achieve perfect anonymity, of course, but I don’t go out of my way to splash my presence all over.

    So it is frankly disconcerting, even terrifying, to think that some random idiot with a cell phone would think that it is a good idea to make a complete mockery of a total stranger having a private conversation in this manner. I am not the prepper sort, not going to go find a cabin out back of beyond and huddle there for the rest of my life, but boy-howdy, I’ll be guarding my words and actions in public even more than I already do.

  15. Along with is it right to point a social media at someone?, is the question, “Is it right that what goes out is there forever?” Our ancestors, in the days of slow communications, believed in the statute of seven years. Me too. (Handy if your husband was a sailor, lost away at sea, or a rumoured prisoner, who never was set free)

    What I try to do, if something is old, or unfairly leaked (such as a secret wiretap) is to say it is “inadmissible evidence” and, like a juror, choose not to give it credence.

  16. It used to be that a person asked permission before taking a picture of someone. And broadcasting a picture or video often required legal documents. When did we become a culture that accepts this behavior? Is this the inevitable result of photobombing and livetweeting? If I were the couple, I would sue. It might only stop that one jerk, but it might stop more.

  17. Thanks for writing this out. We all kind of swim in social media these days and it’s really useful to have some in-depth thought about how it might/might not be done best,

  18. Your point at the end on empathy is crucial. We could do away with a lot of laws if everyone just took a few minutes to think before they posted or wrote. I realize that 8 billion people cannot be reasonably expected to be empathetic to all persons at all times. There are just certain realities in play. However, it could have resolved a lot of difficulties in this example before it became an issue.

    Reminds me to be careful in my own writing.

  19. Once upon a time I heard the term “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
    When I’m limping home on the sidewalk with my right ankle weight in my hand I can’t expect privacy but when I’m talking outside a court house I can – the prosecutors had access to audio from bugs placed at courthouse benches, and said that the communications so overheard were public.
    The judge did not agree.

  20. I think of this differently, here’s how.

    My understanding is photography laws distinguish commercial photography versus noncommercial photography, distinguishes famous people versus nonfamous people, and distinguishes private property from public property.

    Commercial photographs of nonfamous people need model release forms or permission or similar paperwork . Want a picture of someone for your coffee table book youre putting together to sell, and you need their permission.

    Non professional photography does not need permission of the people being photographed. You can take a picture of empire state building without getting permission of everyone in front of if, so long as it is noncommercial, i.e. your personal vacation photos.

    The restriction against commercial photography doesnt apply to famous people. You can photograph famous people for commercial purposes from public land or when permitted on private property without the famous persons permission. See tabloid and news photography.

    All photographers need permission of the property owner just to take any photo if the photo is taken from private property, commercial or noncommercial. Photos taken while standing on public property dont need anyones additional permission.

    Non famous people have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”, which has genrally been used to say you cant take an upskirt photos and you cant use a telephoto lens to zoom in on someone who would expect to have their privacy.

    (Man, thats a weird venn diagram right there.)

    So, the problem is the law draws a line between commercial versus noncommercial because it used to be distributing images cost money, so commercial photography was the only way images became national conversations. With the internet, distribution is free, so the distinction of commercial/noncommercial doesnt do what it used to do.

    But if you require permission just for distribution, that could have some unintended consequences.

    Property owners could decide to impose permission requirements above and beyond what the law requires. Or prohibit photography entirely. Also a spot that could go overboard. But at least its corporate rules, not legal precedence, so easier to change.

    The other option might be to try to expand the “expectation of privacy” to include public distribution of an otherwise private transaction. The examples I have heard of tend to focus on when taking a picture crosses a line into something private. But it could be expanded to add a second layer regarding distribution. So you could take the picture of the couple on the plane, but you couldnt distribute it to the net/public. The way the supreme court is going these days, I wouldnt count on that though.

    Europe has stronger laws about photography. One case that shows the difference between US and EU is the techno viking video.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techno_Viking#Unknown_man_and_lawsuit

    The “techno viking” guy ended up suing the guy who took the video and publishing it, claiming he was not famous and did not want to become famous. The EU has something called “personality rights” which honestly i dont understand at all. But the courts decided the videographer violated techno vikings personality rights and the videographer had to pay 26,000 euros.

    Not sure if I agree with that judgement….

    Its a wicket and its quite sticky.

  21. Another thing, don’t recall how it played out.
    Her pic from like Facebook or something was on a porn vid cover. She was not in the vid.
    Her father was very angry, and got lawyers involved.
    I assume because either he’s nicer than me or couldn’t find out who to feed to fire ants.

  22. I just had an argument with someone on FB because she tagged me on her check-in at a restaurant without asking. Her defense was “it was a birthday celebration”. But even birthday celebrations at restaurants aren’t generally public events in the sense that everyone is invited. My feeling is that if she wanted to check herself in, that was fine, but she shouldn’t have tagged everyone else on the assumption that it was fine for them too. I characterized it as a boundary violation, which I hope will have gotten my point across.

  23. Facebook doesn’t know who I am, and I like it like that. Its little algorithms are going buggy trying to tag the unidentified person (me) in some of my friends’ pictures. I would be irritated if someone decided to ‘out’ me randomly because I was in one of their pictures.

  24. Great! Now I have to trade my TinFoil hat for a Camouflaged parka with a tinfoil lining! Do you REALIZE how expensive custom tailoring for lunatics is????

  25. Like a lot of modern life, this seems like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, people who live by notoriety can also die by it (Princess Diana, for example). On the other hand, the ubiquity of cellphone cameras gives documentary evidence that African Americans are often harassed or killed by whites and/or police for Living While Black. I dislike the former but am grateful for the latter.

  26. I guess, when it comes to privacy matters, age is important. I was rather horrified when I heard about this plane thing but I am 57. I’m not saying no young people care about (their) privacy but there is an age divide, I think. Those who grew up with social media are probably more relaxed about the invasion* of privacy than those of us who were young before the internet existed.

    *And how many young folks would consider the term ‘invasion’ here eye-rolling quaint?

  27. In my previous town of residence, I did a lot of theater. It was sometimes unsettling when a total stranger recognized me from something I’d done, even though they were being nice and complimentary.
    I almost never post photos of non-public people on my blog, just in case it goes bad.

  28. I’m a little strange, in that I have a decent on-line presence (blog & FB) thus being somewhat extroverted, I am insanely private in my real world day-to-day activities (very bad if you’re trying to be a writer). This is partially due to the fact that I am somewhat introverted in most public/private settings and partially due to terrible face/name recognition skills.

    Because I work for gov’t entity, I’m always leery when someone recognizes me in public, because I don’t know if it’s due to the fact they know me from work and I may have done/said something offensive. My job has a tendency to discipline first for frivolous infractions and ask questions (maybe) later, so that ultimately makes me extremely hostile to encounters with people I don’t know.

    Sad I know, but sometimes a person’s job in the public sector often means they’re showing their plastic persona 24/7.

  29. I have the privacy on my FaceBook page set high, only friends can see and comment on my posts, except for stuff in groups, which I keep fairly anodyne. Nothing about work, etc. Twitter is mainly for reading, and very occasional replies. Mostly I post as “wiredog”. The name I’m called by in real life is so generic as to be essentially un-google-able. At least as far as finding me given only the name. My real, full, name is shared with someone who is well-known enough in his field that his pages are the first results. Generally speaking, you already have to know a fair amount about me to find me.

  30. I don’t know what can be done legally, but posting other people’s personal lives to social media is not okay and there needs to be a strong social boundary against it. I think it would have been fine to describe the situation on social media without any images, since the chances of making the people publicly identifiable in that case are extremely low. And I think it’s okay to have incidental images of people in a public place show up, like the people in the background on your beach photos. But I don’t think it’s okay to make someone else the identifiable focus of your social media post without their consent. I don’t know if this is legally defensible, but social norms can play a role where the law doesn’t.

  31. Having now read the article, I think the examples used are a bit all over the place. In the amount of privacy that can be expected, I would say having a conversation on a plane carries more expectation of privacy than writing an article for a small publication, which carries more expectation of privacy than a public tweet. Though of course it’s horrible that the Daily Mail went to her Facebook page and took her photos without asking; that’s absolutely not okay for several reasons, even though linking to the article and discussing it on other platforms is fine.

  32. I followed some of the thread… and thought it was cute, BUT got out of hand quickly. I think the basic story of “we switched seats and it became a meet-cute” was fun, but I think the sleuthing to figure out who they were was a little too much. That being said, some of the sleuthing was only possible because apparently the airline had seat assignments and names available online. Unfortunately, under this current administration… we are losing our privacy rights as corporations monetize. And the police do track us, through the parking kiosks where we put in our plate numbers, with the scanners they use, with everything being electronic. And as a single woman, I want to be able to put my phone on fb live if something happens so that SOMEONE knows what happened to me. I spend more time on social media than I probably should… but it gives some community too in a world where most people are very busy and disconnected and depressed.

  33. “When Krissy Met Scalzi is the feel good movie of the summer.”

    Now I’m going to have its theme song, Shut up and Dance, by Walk the Moon, stuck in my head all day.

    “Set in the 1990s, this movie has a retro feel, it harkens back to they heyday of rom coms…

    “In short, When Krissy Met Scalzi may not be the movie we need for these troubled times, but it is certainly the movie we want. Go see it. 8/10”

  34. “With a lot of this, honestly, a little empathy goes a long way”

    You could write this in the sky.

  35. I saw the twitter thread when it was nearly over. Its signal boost had been given by a celeb that I follow with a cute quote like “there are still good stories in the world” so I hopped over to read it. After getting part way down the thread I felt like I needed a shower to remove some of the shame I felt for the folks involved, and I stopped reading. I knew nothing good was going to come of that. The internet has made us all Mrs. Kravitz spying on that magical family next door that she’s sure is up to no good. I am bummed that I was part of that and it is disappointing the person, a celeb themselves who presumably misses their own privacy, would amplify such a story to their followers.

  36. Greg’s outline of the law was excellent. I think we are past the point when the US needs to consider something along the lines of the European model (Europe is much more attuned to the rights of individuals versus the rights/profits of corporations in general), though how our courts have interpreted the First Amendment will make that a challenge.

    This graf near the end of the Dawson piece is the kicker for me:

    “What Blair did and continues to do as she stokes the flames of this story despite knowing this woman wants no part of it goes beyond intrusive. It is selfish, disrespectful harassment. The violation of this woman’s privacy is less important than Blair’s growing platform and ambition. It is not a romantic comedy for the digital age, it is an act of dehumanization. It is a taking of someone else’s identity and privacy for your own purposes. That this is happening online makes it more, not less serious—its impact is instant, and anyone can join in the fun.”

    Years ago, when I was semi-serious about photography, every class I took had a discussion of the ethics of taking photographs of people out and about their business. Perhaps this is something that should now be incorporated into middle school curricula.

  37. If indeed anyone can revivify the “contemporary romantic comedy,” I’d say you have at least as good a chance as any active novelist.

  38. I was shooting stills for a news website once and a person at an Occupy march and demonstration objected to me having taken her photograph. I yielded to her objection and didn’t use the picture (she was just part of a generic shot of demonstrators, and I had plenty others). But I had to wonder why someone wouldn’t want to be seen AT A DEMONSTRATION.

    But that was clearly in a public place, where traditionally and legally you have no expectation of privacy. The person on the plane, I’d say, was just being a jerk, even though she didn’t think she was. And no matter what the legalities might be.

  39. Romantic comedy is largely a matter of perspective. “Alien”, from the point of view of the alien, is “How I Met Your Mother”.
    (Cut to shot of the Alien Queen and a drone watching the John Hurt chest-bursting scene.
    Queen: “Oh, look at you! Weren’t you tiny? Look at your little face!”
    Drone, writhing: “Awww, mom…”)

  40. Dave, the problem is not that she didn’t want to be seen, maybe she didn’t want to be tracked. The last two protests I was at, the first one had a drone taking pics of the crowd, the last one actually had a sniper and the police chief was undercover taking photos. So I know my photo is on file somewhere at this point.

  41. @JanThie, for what it’s worth, I’m 25 years younger than you and I stared at my screen with my mouth open in horror for like thirty seconds after that thing first popped up on my Tumblr feed. I’m not sure it’s so much an age thing (although I do see a difference even between people my age and people 10 years younger; I’m old enough to remember a world before social media, and the people coming of age now aren’t).

    I’m fairly active on social media, but none of it other than my entirely professional LinkedIn and my completely locked-down Facebook page is at all connected to my real identity (and I don’t post much on FB since it’s algorithm started driving me up a wall; I mostly use it for arranging meetups and my kids’ birthday parties). Which I’m incredibly grateful for, since I made a controversial, viral Tumblr post a couple of years ago that’s been shared several hundred thousand times on various platforms and discussed by at least a couple of mainstream media people. I just deleted the post so I don’t have to deal with the notifications, but if it was connected to my real name, it would be a nightmare even though I more or less stand by what I wrote.

    I agree with our host’s point about empathy. It might not be illegal; that’s not really the point. It was still completely obnoxious.

  42. Catherine: “Dave, the problem is not that she didn’t want to be seen, maybe she didn’t want to be tracked. ”

     I think of this differently, here’s how.

    The issue is there is no legal notion that draws a line between taking a photo of someone on public property and “tracking” them. At the moment, if you are walking on a public street, pretty much anyone can take your picture without your permission.

    If i walked by a protest and took a picture and posted it in support, requiring I get permission from everyone in the photo would mean photography would be impossible.

    And many charlottesville nazis were tracked down and got fired and other blowback for their nazi march, due exactly to people taking legal photos, posting online, and asking for others to help idenitify them.

    Did you condemn that practice? If not, then there is no place to draw a line that isnt entirely subjective. If you did condemn the practice of tracking nazis and getting them fired, then you have a consistent place to draw a line legally, the problem then is a lot of people support the internet dropping on the heads of people they dont like and oppose it when the internet drops on the head of people they do like. Which isnt a good basis for law.

Comments are closed.