The Ethics of Blogging

All bloggers should take a look at this New York Times essay last Sunday by George Washington U. law professor and NYT and New Yorker contributor Jeffrey Rosen. Professor Rosen's academic speciality is privacy law (he's the author of the very good The Unwanted Gaze), and his main topic in the Times is how blogs blur the lines between the private and public lives of the people who write them -- and of the people they write about. He writes, "As blogs expand, people will need to develop new social conventions to resurrect the boundaries between public and private interactions."

This is thought-provoking stuff, but he's missing some things, I think, when he focuses on the surprise expressed by the involuntarily objects of blogging. One is what seems to be our innate voyeurism. We love to watch! What else explains the attraction of reality TV? Blogs usually lack the video, but they also lack commercials. Many of those who are shocked, shocked (!) to find themselves described on blogs don't think twice about watching Survivor or The Apprentice or whatever it is that MTV shows. Two is the flip side of the voyeur in all of us: our innate desire to narrate our lives. The blogosphere is a Wide World of Sports for our daily lives, broadcasting the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Now if your agony is on someone else's blog, you might wish that you had Al Michaels as a commentator, but you ended up with Myron Cope, and I understand your unhappiness. But hey! You're on TV!

Ah well, but what about the involuntariness of it all? Why should those whose lives are blogged be subject to the whims of bloggers? Here I wonder if Professor Rosen is mistaken in the premise that our lives are basically private. He argues, in other words, that blogs push back on that by involuntarily exposing more of the paradigmatically private "us" than we'd like. But what if our lives are paradigmatically public to begin with, and it's up to to us to buy back our privacy? We do that in a lot of ways already; creating private space for ourselves is one of the things that homes are for. Does the burden of protecting privacy lie with the bloggers, or does it lie with the rest of us? Maybe, then, on this first day of winter, the point should be: If you don't want it to be blogged, go to the desert. Remember: WHIVSIV, or What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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