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Indeterminately public

I did a thing that might have been very wrong yesterday. But I’m not sure.

So this is part confessional, part taking advantage of it as a vehicle for discussion. (And a fair bit of hand-wringing into the bargain.)

I recorded someone’s conversation without their knowledge or consent and I put it on the Internet, amplified via Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve had some great discussions in the past about where the boundary of public and private really lies: debating the nuances of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre versus an empty street versus a whisper in a pub. Thoughts around the “Twitter joke trial” about the point at which something could meaningfully be said to be “broadcast”, or to have a particular intent, or audience. The Press Complaints Commission ruling this week on the (non)privacy of tweets.

It’s a bloody minefield, that’s for sure. And much of the mine detection equipment hasn’t been built yet, and what has, hasn’t been well tested.

I am pretty scrupulous about respecting privacy, where I understand privacy to exist. As I understand it. Which isn’t all that straightforward either.

So a person going about their job, talking to a colleague about what they think of their company’s internal training (and more) shouldn’t expect to have their conversation recorded and “broadcast” on the Internet, should they? Under any circumstances?

Questions, questions, questions.

What does broadcast mean here, really? Does identifiability of the speaker make a difference? What about the nature of his job? Where he is as he’s speaking? How long he’s been going on like this? Whether his outpourings have clearly (to my ear) left the realm of colleague-to-colleague and taken on the guise of a rather bizarre form of public performance art? What about him swearing, loudly, wearing a company uniform and in the earshot of children and those visibly (to my eye) not appreciating it? Rubbishing his employer. Crude sexism. Do any of these make a difference?

And on my side of the fence: what’s my intent? To amuse people? To hold him to account or even get him fired? And what if that’s the outcome and it wasn’t my intention? Do I become liable, legally or morally?

The Internet has changed everything. The two dominant characteristics, as I see them: ease of access to information and permanence of record are visibly in play here. I don’t know where the recording might end up. I do know it will be somewhere, for ever. With a very low threshold of effort required to find it.

Of such vapours are the clouds that we call public and private space formed. And I thought long and hard about them. And I weighed the answers I came up with as levelly as I could. And I published.

Let me know what you think. Right, or wrong? Or “complicated”?

Would make a good role play, mind you.

(I don’t do role play.)

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