Monday, April 6, 2009

Private Lives Online

From Cara Bonnett of Duke’s Office of Information Technology:
Home to Facebook, Twitter and more than 57 million blogs – about 100,000 created each day – the Internet offers endless opportunities for self-expression and communication. It also makes instantly available a permanent chronicle of our private lives that isn’t always flattering or accurate.

“Reputation is much more accessible,” says Daniel Solove, a George Washington University law professor who spoke at the Sanford Institute of Public Policy last week. “But more information isn’t always better. It can lead to hasty judgments that are often unfair and don’t lead to more truth.”

Solove – author of “The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet” – cites as one example the “Star Wars Kid,” the Canadian teen who filmed himself in 2003 wielding a golf ball retriever like a lightsaber. His classmates shared the video online, spawning countless mock-adaptations and leading to a harassment lawsuit.

Solove says the threat of lawsuits can serve as an incentive to blog responsibly and work out disputes informally. He also says the United States needs a more nuanced understanding of privacy.

Simultaneously, Solove acknowledges there are no easy answers in the struggle to balance privacy and free speech on the Internet.

A new interdisciplinary project at Duke – “Online Discourse: Free Speech, Civility, and Accountability” – will explore these issues further, says the Sanford Institute’s Ken Rogerson, who invited Solove to speak at Duke.

Technology introduces a new dimension to the playground truism, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” according to Rogerson.

“People say things online that they might never say face to face,” he said. “If you think about the big playground of the Internet – no one’s going to physically push you, but they are going to push you in other ways you might not expect, like or want. Figuring out a solution to that is going to be painfully difficult.”