Not my beeswax

Door sign Private
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.

Private Property signAs 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.

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11 thoughts on “Not my beeswax

  1. Quite. I’m certainly guilty of being interested in knowing these things, but I wouldn’t ever presume I have a right to know them. The real name, gender and sexuality of a writer are all things they have every right to keep private, should they wish. We can’t begin to guess all the factors that could be at play in someone’s decision to use a certain online identity, and we do them a real disservice if we automatically assume it’s purely because they want to make more money out of gullible readers.

    Like you, I’m not worried if people find out my real identity. I don’t want to broadcast it too loudly as I don’t particularly want my writing name to come up if someone does a search online using my real name. However, I’m not going to lose my job, friends or family if it does. Others are not so fortunate…

  2. Totally agree with you about privacy, although the twitter thing is no different to Facebook, which tells you all that stuff and more, what game you arep playing, whatcomments you made to what person etc etc. It’s what you are comfortable sharing, I’m not bothered with anyone knowing that stuff, and i hope that if I saw you and – say – Charlie following the same person i’d go nd check them out, such is the way that these things are done.

    I’ve never understood celebrity, especially celebrity for the sake of it. I don’t buy magazines, i never watch these celebrity programmes (exception Masterchef or Master mind or somethinglike that) I simply don’t get the whole “Hello” or “OK” mentality. I suppose i might have bought film star mags if i was alive in the 40s but that really wasa fantasy – nd most of the stories were made up. The stars were eternally remote, which is something, when slebs twitter crap like the rest of us–you can’t say about today’s slebs.

    1. I think it’s more the real time nature of the Activity tab that gets me.

      God, imagine the stars of today in the magazines of the old days. How on earth would they report on Jordan?!

  3. I so agree about the celebrity/privacy thing. A lot of people say celebs give up their right to privacy because “their fans made them what they are”, but that’s bull. People, celebrity or not, should have the right to decide what is public and what is private, and where the boundaries are between them.

    As to my own privacy, I don’t like having “I can touch you” type stuff flitting about – like my address or things that could allow anyone to suddenly pop up on my doorstep! But otherwise, if someone finds out something about me, it wouldn’t really bother me. My friends probably already know, and why should I care what a stranger knows or thinks of me anyway? 😉

    1. I’ll admit I’d be more outraged at an invasion of the privacy of a celebrity who generally kept their private life to themselves and didn’t sell pictures of their wedding and house and kids to the highest bidder. But ones who try to use the press as part of their whole publicity machine should be prepared for the fact that the press won’t only publish what they want them to publish.

      We’ve got a big debate going on over here in the UK about this now and it makes me mad that it could end up with the press losing the freedoms we need them to have to expose the rich and powerful when they’re screwing us over, because they’ve wasted those freedoms on nonsense.

  4. I once had a bit of a ‘mild’ argument with a customer at work about the News of the World thing. She flippantly said, ‘well, they’re celebrities, they should expect it/deserve it.’ (Or something like that).

    I replied that it was none of our business what a celebrity got up to behind closed doors (within reason – obviously nothing grimly illegal), they have the same right to their privacy as we do. Having their phone ‘tapped’ is not acceptable… unless believed to be a spy and about to sell out their country!

    I expect a celebrity, especially with a huge young following, to behave appropriately in the public eye. David Beckham knows he is an idol for a lot of young boys, because of football, and therefore (now) behaves accordingly in the public eye.

    Maybe Twitter feels it wants to make social networking easier for us… I don’t know. Facebook has screwed up its wall. I’m so sure I’m missing some people 😦 But like you say, if you put stuff on the internet, then you do know it’s not ‘private’ – especially Twitter.

    And look at me I’m not hiding behind a pseudonym, aren’t I brave!? lol! (I hope I don’t regret it!) I may have to change it if a publisher wanted me to use another name. But will cross that bridge when I come to it.

    I am a very open person, and will talk to anyone about anything really. I try to keep stuff about my boys on Facebook (only because that’s set up more privately) – but I will share on Twitter and my blog, because they are apart of me and my life etc. It’s hard not to talk about them sometimes.

    Gosh… not sure if I’ve gone off topic there.

    1. The Beckhams are ones who don’t sell all their details of their lives to anyone waving some cash at them, so I like them for that.

      You have got the advantage of a name that I think works very nicely as an author name. It’s going to look fab on a book cover one day. 🙂

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