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Summary: Daniel J. Solove’s “Gossip and the Virtues of Knowing Less”

Privacy is a fraught term just as democracy, especially the free speech argument that underlies it. It is difficult to pinpoint what constitutes privacy and where the private/public borderline begin, end or collapse and overlap. Different people in different contexts consider privacy differently (time and situation, culture, individual and community values and interests), Thus privacy isn’t easy to define.

One of the defenses that people make having damaged others’ reputation is that they didn’t intend to so disrepute them. Another argument goes in favor of making things public by associating it “social action,” “awareness,” or exposing of people’s or institutions’ biases and false pretenses so that the fundamentals of democracy are preserved. True as it is, Solove reminds us, the argument about democratic rights should be followed by sensitivity to those who could be affected by the information sharing. It should also entail the ability to forgive, if not forget, to give the ‘wrong’ doer a chance for self-correction. Right, thus, is predicated in responsibility. The same goes true with politicians and celebrities, whose actions and behaviors directly impact the integrity of a larger society. Besides, it’s important to note that not all acts of exposure guarantee positive results.

Solove further argues that since people have multiple selves and they wear multiple masks in multiple contexts, no easy and quick conclusion can be drawn about their true and authentic selves. Thus, judgments about others without taking the context in account can be partial and incomplete at best and downright inaccurate at worst.

As Solove rightly points out that knowing what constitutes private content entails knowing “the who, what, and why of it” (74). Context and audience are important considerations for a blogger. Jessica’s context differs from the other examples Solove provides. In all cases that Solove provides, the sharers were expressing things they deeply cared and felt strongly about in private moments, basically practicing their write to free speech, in a way. However, what started as seemingly innocuous personal musings or reaction to people or institutions turned out to be the turning points in people’s careers and and relationships. No anonymity and pseudonimity helped them from going it public.

How, then, can one minimize, if not totally stop, privacy when it’s increasingly to do so in the Internet? Knowing “the who, what, and why” of information sharing.

Work 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 UP, 2007. 50-75. Print.


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