Saturday, July 16, 2011

More on Privacy

Some people believe in bringing it on, posting their innermost feelings and secrets on the internet.  Some people go the opposite way and refuse to attach anything on the internet to their real name in the hopes that nothing personal can be linked to them.  I very much fit into the first category since I use my real name on the blog and openly publish where I live and all kinds of really intimate details.  Lots of my friends and family post under pseudonyms that are readily identifiable to each other but pretty much impossible for the internet to sort out but one in particular refuses to post at all, even under a pseudonym.  This one I shall dub Kilan, and Kilan is relatively unique in that Kilan thinks about my posts and has comments but they are reserved for emails or in person questions.  (I attempted to link the word Kilan with the person in question via google and other internet resources and got precisely nowhere, so it seems safe!)

I have the advantageous position of being a homemaker so there is no threat to my career if I link my name up with all kinds of strongly worded opinions on the internet.  Even if I went back to sales I doubt very much that it could ever matter - salespeople are hired on the basis of numbers, not opinions.  Hell, the ability to express controversial opinions on the internet in an effective fashion might well be considered an asset.  Kilan, like many others, is instead in a position where any prospective employer will google them and would take any random internet comments very much into consideration.  They might well find any controversial comments distasteful whether or not they agree with them.  Given this realistic concern, there are good reasons to simply not post what you think on the internet under a real name, or in fact to post at all.  The trouble with careful, thoughtful people refusing to post though is that their voices don't get heard.  You don't change the world by sitting in a corner waiting for things to get better, you change it by stepping out and doing and saying things.

To be fair changing the world is something lots of people aren't especially interested in.  They want to enjoy their lives and make good choices themselves but don't see that they should be tasked with changing the world - or perhaps they doubt that writing posts on the internet actually *does* change anything (which is an argument I find hard to refute).  One thing I think is true is that posting anonymously on the internet has limited effectiveness.  For one, when you do so everyone knows you aren't willing to stamp your name on your beliefs and stand by them in any circumstance.  For two there is the issue that you might well be a bot, a person spamming over and over on different names or just trolling.  There is also the abundantly true and hilarious Greater Internet F***wad Theory to explain why people arguing on the internet under pseudonyms create such incredibly useless threads.

I think opinions and ideas are important and that the things we say and don't say matter.  I also think that the best way to achieve thoughtful debate on important topics is to have open discussions that are moderated when necessary and which are conducted using real names and identities.  I don't insist on commenters using real names and I don't use real names for most of the people in my life though because I know lots of people have good things to say but don't entirely agree with me about the benefits of real identities or feel that preserving their anonymity is sufficiently important to them to want to post under a pseudonym.  I suspect that many of my commenters, including Kilan, would post anonymously even if there was no threat to their careers whatsoever.

It is my firm conviction that much of the bigotry and hatred in our society is supported by secrecy, privacy and silence.  Forcing people to own up to their beliefs and openly acknowledge their biases is, in my view, a good step towards stamping out much of the grief we shovel onto one another.


  1. Corporate PlundererJuly 19, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    In these connected times, an even more interesting topic than privacy (IMHO) is discretion.

    We learn a great deal about our friends, about public figures, about our family, which we were never meant to know. There's just so much more information out there, and we're just so good at parsing it.

    So when do you say something? When do you assume something is public knowledge and intended to be shared, or a terribly embarrassing misstep which should be politely disavowed?

    For public figures, when do we decide that we know too much? When does our collective guilt over prying kick in?

  2. Why were we never meant to know these things?

  3. I think what CP means is that we regularly figure out things about people that they tried to hide from us. We often know that people were cheating on their spouses, wear toupees, lost a bunch of money on a stupid pyramid scheme, etc even though they tried to hide it from the world. Meant in this case is talking about the intention of the person in question, not any global or objective thing.

    I personally find hunting for juicy gossip about celebrities distasteful but I think the solution is not to try to make sure anyone can keep any secret they want but rather make keeping secrets at all impractical.

  4. Corporate PlundererAugust 1, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    Yes, what Sky said.

    I'm no longer sure that privacy is one's own responsibility. It's simply too hard to both exist and keep secrets, and the world so biased towards making information free, that the ones falls on all of us to have a certain amount of discretion.

    It can be amusingly true in the other direction as well; the firehose of information we ooze out onto teh netz every day can make it remarkably hard to share anything sensitive without making a big deal of it. The event of getting a new job, apartment, relationship, orientation or gender can seemingly go completely unnoticed.