Where do you draw the line between private and public discourse?

    by Mark Glaser
    April 14, 2008

    In the age of the Internet, with so many cameraphones and videophones, no one can feel like they are having a private conversation anymore. There is always a blogger or someone nearby seemingly recording every moment, whether it’s a celebrity trying to take a vacation or Sen. Barack Obama having a “private fundraiser” in San Francisco. In the latter case, Huffington Post blogger Mayhill Fowler recorded his talk, which included the comment about people in Pennsylvania being bitter — something that was fodder for his political opponents. So what do you think should be private and what is public? Should private emails be posted on your blog? Hidden-camera photos or videos? Does it depend on the person being recorded (i.e. if they’re a public figure)? Tell us a story about something you thought was private that got out online. I’ll run the best comments and stories in the next Your Take Roundup.

    • I would turn the question around: Rather than asking where the line is for the Internet in general, I would say each person needs to guard his or her own line of privacy.

      I have friends who make it clear in their signature blocks that they consider any e-mail to be fair game for Internet publishing unless you say not to, others who wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing or don’t have an Internet “printing press,” and loads of in-betweeners.

      In such an environment, I think the onus falls on the writer. I had one person I interviewed by e-mail who, before he would say a thing, wanted to make sure I wouldn’t slap his e-mails unedited all over the Internet. I think he was on to something. It is, unfortunately, each individual’s job to guard his or her privacy, just as it is in the world of junk mail.

      I will say, however, that people sometimes communicate really juicy things at completely inappropriate volumes in public on their cell phones. I consider them to be fair game for being blogged. They’ve made the decision to air their dirty laundry in public at high volume. If my friends and I can get a laugh out of it, so much the better.

      As far as hidden cameras and microphones, with the ubiquity of cell phones that do this and video too, I think nobody can assume that there’s anywhere to hide. Especially for public figures, everything you say out loud can and will become public. The days of Ronald Reagan thinking the microphone was off are over.

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