Solove’s book The Future of Reputation, discusses principles of gossip and rumour as they take place in our daily and online lives. As Solove gives examples of unforgettable blogs from that of Washingtonienne to the Phantom Professor, a sense of foreboding starts creeping in as we are given mere fragments as representation for the reputations of such bloggers as Jessica Cutler (50-52). Solove gives the impression that through exposing personal information online that there is an invitation to criticism, and in some cases, social shaming. The result of social shaming (as it takes place online) is that of a fragmented self. An individual may be picked over, harassed and abused for a myriad of reasons ranging from a perceived break in social norms, not fulfilling a socially constructed view of beauty, or in the case of Cutler, being a female blogger relating tales from her sex life. Something as insignificant as being overweight, or failing to pick up after your dog, can leave you the target (much like dog poop girl, mentioned in Solove’s first chapter) of ‘The Internet’ – that scary collective of seemingly anonymous people – ready to dole out punishment to offenders.
The problem with this kind of rumour and shaming, as Solove identifies, is that it goes unchecked, “can become contagious and spread far and wide” (63), potentially perpetuating an oppressive dialogue which is hard, if not impossible, to fight against. The shaming rituals taking place online today leave fragments of our reputation floating in various nooks and crannies of cyberspace without the opportunity for a second chance. As Solove states, reputation “is something given to us by others in the community … it is not solely our own creation” (33). However, once one person takes issue with your behavior (in some cases, even just the way you look), suddenly your reputation is tarnished for all to see and you’ve become a permanent fragment online.
The policing that has been taking place online no longer exists strictly in an online capacity. Online surveillance has spilled over into the public sphere, where you may be photographed, with very little power to prevent it. Online shaming perpetuates and cycles through oppressive dialogues (sexism, homophobia, racism, etc.) without the ability to control or put a stop to the conversation. When a reputation has been tarnished, fragmented and put on display online, it is impossible to get it back. There are no do-overs, and there is no such thing as delete, which leaves the question of how we move forward, and how we can protect our cherished reputations from an ever-expanding surveillance culture.
Solove, Daniel J. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. Print.
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