In Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation, Jessica Cutler is positioned as an ignorant internet user who creates a blog intended only for her friends, detailing her sex life. Jessica reasons that when men bragged about having sex with her at the office it was considered mere “writing on the bathroom wall” (54) so really, “what’s the difference?” (54). Co-worker Robert’s lawsuit filed against Jessica’s denounces her gossip as “highly offensive to an ordinary reasonable person of average sensibilities” (54); Jessica’s otherwise casual internet exposition violates norms of “real-life.”
Further outlining his point on internet privacy and gossip, Solove offers ten subsequent examples of online speech costing people their livelihood, and all but two of these ancillary cases are women. Solove’s examples reflect a societal predisposition to cringe at stories of women who are “caught” and penalized for their “inappropriate” internet presence in order to focus on the dangers of privacy online.
Is Robert upset that Jessica has violated his privacy? Or does the real threat lie in Jessica’s position as the one who gets to brag? Moreover, if people were more open about their sexuality, like Jessica, would these conversations still be an issue of mere privacy?
Sex-positive blogs like Jessica’s allow women to express their sexuality in a manner otherwise reserved for men. Widespread discussions of privacy and online identity often focus on females exploring or embracing their sexuality, most recently Amanda Todd. Response to Amanda’s suicide was polarized between those who saw her death as a cautionary tale to young girls about expressing their sexuality on the internet, and those who saw her death (and the subsequent response) as the result of systemic misogyny and slut-shaming.
Legal scholar Robert Post observes “gossip threatens to subvert community norms by exposing backstage behaviour and revealing the pretensions . . . and scandal of community actors. On the other hand, gossip reaffirms community norms by bringing social pressure to bear on their enforcement” (65). Were Amanda’s and Jessica’s stories so popular because they exemplified the continual threat to our privacy? Or do they resonate because it still inappropriate for women to express their sexuality in the powerful ways the internet allows?
We need to ask ourselves, is the internet invading on our “real life” privacy? Or are norms of “real life” privacy encroaching on our internet lives where one seeks freedom from the pretensions of public space?
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 UP, 2007. 50–75. Print.