When you blog, how much privacy can you expect? What about when you are blogged about? Jeffrey Rosen raises those and related questions in an interesting, and cautionary, article in Sunday’s NY Times.
Some blogs have disclaimers on them saying that the contents of any e-mails sent to the blogger are presumed to be publishable unless the sender specifically says otherwise. I don’t, but only because I have comments on this blog, and I figure if you want to say something publicly, there’s the mechanism to do so, and if you took the trouble to sent me an e-mail instead, I presume that it’s private. (If I want to publish it, or parts of it, anyway, I’ll get your permission first, of course.)
But what if you, yourself, don’t blog. Are your real-life or online interactions with people who do fair game for the entire Internet to read about? I would say no (and when I have blogged about such interactions, I have tended to use pseudonyms for the others involved unless it involved an innocuous subject). But many other bloggers, as Rosen points out, aren’t so careful, out of ignorance or malice. Which can be a problem in that, in a free country, you can’t be punished for publishing true, accurate but unflattering facts about someone. Here in North Carolina, for example, “invasion of privacy” on that basis hasn’t been recognized as a tort claim since the 1930s.
And when you’re a blogger interacting with other bloggers, you generally have to assume that anything you say can and will end up on someone else’s blog. For example, I e-mailed Jay Rosen at New York University’s journalism program this past week regarding my current assignment at work, and he blogged about it, even though I didn’t ask him to. (I didn’t know whether he would or not, but I hoped he would because he gets a lot more page views, particularly within the industry, than I do.)
This sometimes-unexpected loss of privacy for others can have grave repercussions in both the work and personal spheres — just ask Heather “Dooce” Armstrong. And as the right to privacy undergoes increasing assault from all manner of trends, from blogging to data mining, we’ll all have to be a little more aware of the pitfalls. Of course, this could be a welcome tonic to the TV-talk-show-driven, too-much-information culture we developed in the past decade. I mean, I might find it titillating to know whom you’re sleeping with, but will my life really be poorer if I don’t? Nah.