Twitter users might have noticed in the last few days they’ve got this new tab called “Activity”. Basically, it shows what your various Twitter contacts are up to. Who they’ve started to follow, what tweets they retweeted, or favourited, who they’ve added to lists. Personally, it makes me uncomfortable, because the first thing I thought when I saw it was “is this information any of my business?”
Okay, it’s not giving away anything I couldn’t find out anyway by clicking on someone’s Twitter profile and going and taking a look at who they follow, and what they’ve favourited and what lists they have and who’s on them. But the point is, I have to go looking for that. I’m not just getting it presented to me because someone else has decided I should know about it.
There are things in this world that however interesting they may be are not my business and I don’t have a right to know about them.
Just for starters:
- The sex, sexuality, marital status, age, or real name of authors or people I “know” on the Internet.
- The contents of the private voicemails, emails or diaries of celebrities and of otherwise ordinary people caught up in a news story.
- What my colleagues at work get up to outside of work.
- What the inside of the house, including the bedroom, of some celebrity looks like.
Obviously there are caveats for genuinely in the public interest matters, or the exposure of hypocrisy, particularly among politicians. The married politician supporting discriminatory laws against gay marriage, then spending evenings cruising for men is becoming a real-life cliché at the moment.
And photo spreads of the fabulous houses of celebrities aren’t an intrusion as such as the subject of the article invites it and is paid for it. But those kind of articles have always made me uncomfortable and made me think it’s not a surprise that unbalanced people start to think they know and have a relationship with a celebrity. After all, they’ve seen their bedroom! This really just seems to encourage people to think they have a right to every detail of the private life of a celebrity and since that person has already sold bits of their privacy off then the public calls shenanigans if they later try to take out an injunction to stop revelation of the bits they prefer not to be exposed. These injunctions give me such mixed feelings. On the one hand, slapping gagging orders on the press is not a good situation. On the other, I still don’t think I have a right to know about some footballer’s marital infidelity, usually exposed because of someone selling the story of it. It’s all very murky and nobody comes out of it smelling good.
That’s not to say I’m not curious about people’s private lives. I’m a writer. Being nosey is one of the basic qualifications. But my nosiness doesn’t give me the right to know. My curiosity is not more important than other’s people’s choice about what they make public and what they keep private. It’s often not a good thing to know too much about people we admire anyway, since they all have feet of clay. Nobody is perfect.
I also can’t say that when something that had been private is exposed that I won’t judge the person on what’s been revealed, especially if it exposes hypocrisy and lies. And I do think there’s a different between keeping something private and actively lying. It’s like the difference between hiding and wearing a disguise. There’s more intention to deceive in the latter. I try not to judge people too harshly, they’re only human and make mistakes and can start something that ends up getting out of control, like a snowball on a mountain top turning into an avalanche. But I’m only human too and I can’t help what I feel about things I learn.
As for me and privacy; I’ve always been quite a private person. You won’t see me tweeting or blogging much about personal stuff. And in the real world very few people know I’m an author. On the other hand I haven’t made any huge effort to disguise my real identity. It wouldn’t take you that long on the Internet to link up my author identity, my old fandom handle and my real name. If you were starting from just my real name it’s probably harder. But even then, I’m not going to have a fit if someone did. It’s not a matter of life and death for me, or would have any serious consequences that I can imagine. Nobody would care, basically. But I’m lucky in that respect. Other people would suffer more serious consequences if they don’t keep the two apart and I’m not going to judge them for the efforts they make to do that, when that’s the primary motivation. It would make me the hypocrite if I valued the privacy of others less than my own.