[Air-l] an Ess-ian Q: when does the personal becomes public?

danah boyd aoir.z3z at danah.org
Mon Sep 5 16:57:02 PDT 2005

What constitutes a "private" conversation?  Is it the location?  The  
number of people present?  The intention of the speaker?    Who is  
the expected audience of the blog?  Friends?  Google?

Barry - what you are running up against is not an issue of  
"publication."  Very few bloggers see their practice as akin to  
publication.  They are writing about their experiences for the people  
who they think will care.  In documenting their lives, they are also  
documenting the lives of others.  Of course, this issue is always at  
play when you have persistent communications of any sort.  This was  
why i put together that Social Network Fragments piece - it's really  
disturbing to realize that you hold data about the social networks of  
hundreds of people in your inbox alone.  When you write to any of the  
Spoke or Visible Path people, they have just given out your data to a  
company that can use it to analyze your behavior.  Who's data is it?   
When you have spoken in the witness of another, you have just given  
out data for that other person to use when they are analyzing the  
world, making sense of patterns.  We rely on the data given to us by  
others all of the time.  This is how you can make a living as a  
sociologist.  You're always witnessing others and writing about them,  
developing an understanding of the world that way.  They are a part  
of your work - do they have the choice to be?

The thing about being a sociologist is that there's an ongoing  
dialogue about "ethics" particularly about revealing sources.  We  
have a desire to protect our sources, partially for moral reasons and  
partly for selfish reasons (so that we can keep doing what we do).   
Well, the practices of observation and analysis are not just in the  
domain of sociology, even if the ethics are.  To make sense of your  
own identity, you are constantly analyzing the world.  With blogging,  
it is taking to a persistent, searchable level.  The production of  
content is not about creating a publication but about creating a  
mirror for reflection.  We put it out to the public in the same way  
that we adorn ourselves with fashion markers to get a reaction at the  
local mall.  This is all part of getting people to respond so that we  
can make sense of who we are.  We also talk shit about people in  
order to place ourselves without a social structure.  Guess what?   
This is all moving to the blogs, not because it's about publication,  
but because it's a space for figuring out who we are and we don't yet  
know how to negotiate persistent, searchable environments.

Not everyone has the same understanding about what constitutes a  
private conversation.  Personally, i avoid naming names of anyone who  
isn't a blogger unless i'm talking about their work.  I figure  
bloggers are all out there anyhow but why affect someone's Google  
juice unless it's for the good.  But each of us have our own rules  
about when we name names.  Most of the teens i interview copy/paste  
full AIM conversations to their blogs.  These are badges of honor.   
This is not the practice of most adults.  But Barry, if you think  
you're getting Google raked, imagine what the teens are  
experiencing.  They are doing this because it's about identity  

If you look deep enough, you can find an in-depth analysis of one of  
my relationships by the best friend of my ex-girlfriend.  It drove me  
out of my mind and i was super frustrated because i thought that the  
analysis was way off and that she was missing the point.  Years  
later, i asked her about her choice to analyze my relationship online  
when she knew i could read it.  She said it had nothing to do with  
me; she was simply documenting her experience trying to help her best  
friend.  I said, but it hurt me really bad.  And she said it  
shouldn't because it had nothing to do with  me.  As much as that  
analysis hurt, what she said resonated with everything i've heard  
from younger bloggers - they are documenting their lives and it  
doesn't matter if others' lives get in the way.


On Sep 5, 2005, at 10:03 AM, Barry Wellman wrote:

> Every once in a while, I Google recent and high page-ranking  
> references to
> me.
> I was surprised when I did this recently to find my name mentioned  
> in two
> blogs:
> -- A purported quotation from me from a dinner table conversation a  
> few
> years ago.
> -- A side comment that I purportedly made to the blogger who claims  
> to be
> sitting next to me at another conference.
> This has gotten me to thinking.
> 1. Is it ethical to publish private conversations without the  
> speaker's
> approval?
> 2. Or has the nature of networked community become such that just  
> as the
> public has become personal, the personal has become public?
> Secret police types would concurr: If you have nothing to hide, why  
> worry?
> But I have had enough experiences in America, China, Russia
> and Bulgaria to know I don't want to live that way. And neither do my
> friends who have lived in these countries.
> Surely there is a matter of private discourse among friends and
> colleagues. Or has blogging by scholars merged with gossip columns?
> My own feeling is that my papers, lectures and perhaps even public
> conference utterances are publishable. My side comments over dinner  
> and in
> informal groups are not -- unless I explicitly agree.
> Or am I just an old fuddy-duddy who doesn't understand the new  
> world of
> blogs -- even those by scholars?
>  Barry
>  _____________________________________________________________________
>   Barry Wellman         Professor of Sociology        NetLab Director
>   wellman at chass.utoronto.ca  http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman
>   Centre for Urban & Community Studies          University of Toronto
>   455 Spadina Avenue    Toronto Canada M5S 2G8    fax:+1-416-978-7162
>          To network is to live; to live is to network
>  _____________________________________________________________________
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"taken out of context i must seem so strange"

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