[Air-L] public/private

Lois Ann Scheidt lscheidt at indiana.edu
Sat Aug 11 10:47:19 PDT 2007

The expectation of privacy argument is a slippery slope.  I think it is 
important to work through the slippery slime but we can’t forget it’s 
still slippery and will never be clear-cut.

Here is my thinking on the topic.  The teens I study have made a 
decision, knowledgeable or not, to post their blogs on public spaces.  
As many of us who study teens have found in discussions with young blog 
authors, they know their blogs are publicly accessible but don’t think 
anyone but their friends would want to read their posts (see Bortree, 
2005, March).  Is that an expectation of privacy or the authors 
ignoring the possibility that their public musings will not be 
overlooked?  These are not equivalent terms, an expectation of privacy 
implies that they understood their work was private
I can say that as 
well but if I’m disclosing private personal information to a single 
person, but I’m doing so on a cell phone in a crowded elevator
it’s not 
private even if I want to think that it is.

As for the “audience” issue, whose definition of audience gains 
primacy?  I really think this is the core of the of the public/private 
debate in that we all use the word “audience” but we mean totally 
different things by the term.  Does the authors intended audience get 
the most points, even though the work is available to anyone who has 
access to an internet connection?  Does the actual audience count more 
than the author’s intentions, personally I never thought anyone outside 
my department would read my blog
I was wrong
the actual audience is 
quite different than my initial intended audience.  Plus the text 
itself has an implied intended audience, what if the authors stated 
intentions and their communicative ones differ?

The only way to respectfully judge an author’s choice of an “intended 
audience” is to ask them, otherwise we are using mind-reading to 
“protect” those we see and vulnerable in some fashion.  I will say here 
that I have much more problem with the idea of “mind-reading” people’s 
intentions than I have with saying publicly accessible communication is 
“overheard” or equivalent to a letter to the editor, and therefore open 
country for research.

I know other disciplines have struggled with the mind-reading part of 
the intent debate.  Because those struggles have gone before us and 
IRB’s have a history to judge the “overheard conversation” between two 
people in a public venue.  Check out sociology and anthropology 
literature, among other disciplines, to see how they handle “overheard” 

Reference List

Bortree, D. (2005, March). Presentation of self on the web: An 
ethnographic study of teenage girls' weblogs. Education, Communication 
& Information, 5(1), 25-39.

Lois Ann Scheidt

Doctoral Student - School of Library and Information Science, Indiana
University, Bloomington IN USA

Adjunct Instructor - School of Informatics, IUPUI, Indianapolis IN USA and
IUPUC, Columbus IN USA

Webpage:  http://www.loisscheidt.com
Blog:  http://www.professional-lurker.com

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