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Response: “I heard it through the grapewire” – gossip and privacy online

Solove’s chapter reminds of the effects some blogs believed to be “a needle in the electronic haystack of cyberspace” can have on people after they are read by people for whom they were not intended (51). After pointing out how wrongful the assumption that only “friends and family” will read our posts is, Solove talks about the manners in which information spreads on the Internet. A piece of information, in order to be disseminated, needs to be “sticky,” it has to be “contagious” enough for people to link it and share it (61).

While the attitude of the bloggers towards how much of their life they reveal online might have changed in the six years after The Future of Reputation was published, there is no tendency in the general public of an alteration in the innate curiosity for juicy details from other people’s lives. In my opinion, if Jessica Cutler had decided to write about trees in the Siberian subarctic instead of her sexual escapades, her blog would not have been shared as much and it would definitely not reach the popularity it did. This does not mean that people are interested only in other people’s lives. There are many successful bloggers who do not post about their personal lives; yet the “contagious” aspect of the piece of information seems to grow proportionally with the level of disclosure of the private facts.

Another explanation for the popularity of such blogs can be found in the second part of Solove’s chapter. The author argues that the public self has a reputation of being less genuine than the private self (68). In other words, the fact that people do not reveal everything about themselves should not be interpreted as artificiality, but it often is. This claim, I would argue, makes posts by those who feel comfortable with sharing everything from their lives more popular, as they are regarded as “the real thing”. And if the information happens to be of the kind Jessica decided to share, the number of views would increase even more rapidly.

Whereas the opportunity not to disclose some information is seen by Solove as an advantage, as it allows no negative influence of the past mistakes on the present (72), David Kirkpatrick in The Facebook Effect, mentions a group with a different opinion on privacy. Namely, the “members of Facebook’s radical transparency camp” are convinced that the level of tolerance in the society will raise if people shared more. Namely, if we are able to read everything about everybody, we will realize that everybody has done embarrassing things, which will lead to a more tolerant society (211). I wonder what this new society would consider “sticky” information.

Works cited:

Solove, Daniel J. “Gossip and the Virtues of Knowing Less.” The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and  Privacy on the Internet. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007. 50-75. Print.

Kirkpatrick, David. The Facebook Effect. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. Print.

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