Tag! Your [reputation's] It!

In Italy, they call it ‘bella figura’ or ‘keeping face’. It was explained to me for the first time in an intercultural communication course in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A Danish businessman told the diverse class of an incident that occurred at an Italian Christmas party. He had consumed a few too many drinks and made a spectacle of himself, (he never mentioned the specifics). The next morning there was an early meeting. The Italian counterparts were not as friendly as they were before the party and the Danish businessman wondered why. Pulling a colleague aside, it was explained to him, that in Italy, drunk behavior did not excuse poor behavior and explained the ‘keeping face’ concept to the Dane, in whose own experience a few drinks was a reasonable excuse to ‘let your guard’ down.

In this digital world, information is available about anyone to anyone. Reputations should be held sacred. They define us to the outside world. If you don’t have the luxury of defining your own, or ‘building your brand’ through social networks, it’s probably been created for you. I’ve Googled potential roommates, co-workers, classmates and even people from my past – just for curiosity. What is found during these searches definitely influences judgements.

Technology now multiplies the sting of ruptured privacy – on a horrifying scale.

Last week a Rutgers University student committed suicide after a peer accessed their shared room via his webcam and invaded his privacy.

Last week a blogger in Michigan, a public official contested that it was under his first amendment right to defame a college student’s reputation.

Last week the blogosphere is a-buzz after a recent college graduate of Duke University created an electronic document that listed full names and multiple pictures of her, uh, intimate encounters with athletes. It went viral after she shared the document with friends.

Unfortunately, one blog post can’t highlight all of these topics or stories in the detail that they each deserve.

Common threads run through these incidents: digital information, reputations, privacy, sex and the law.

Out of curiosity, Google ‘sex and privacy’. At the top of the search: a PDF that was presented in Cape Town in August of 1999 by James Rachels entitled: Sex and Personal Privacy. Basically, Rachels asks, what about sex makes us so concerned and why is privacy important to us?

Rachels cites Thomas Nagel,

“[F]ull sexual expression and release leve us entirely vulnerable and without a publicly presentable ‘face’. Sex transgresses these protective boundaries, breaks us open and exposes the uncontrolled and unpresentable creature underneath; that is its essence. We need privacy in order not to have to integrate our sexuality in its fullest expression with the controlled surface we present the world.”

Rachels elaborates on this idea stating that privacy is necessary for maintaining a variety of personal relationships. “The idea is that there is a close connection between our ability to control who has access to us and to information about us, and our ability to create and maintain different sorts of social relationships with different people.” What an individual allows someone to know of them is defined by these relationships and what it certain relationships mean to a person.

To summarize: because we have ‘zones of our core self’ and display only specific layers depending on our personal relationship with a person – be it our professor, mother or future employer.

The three stories mentioned above all have different specifics. My initial reaction to all of them is a negative connotation of the perpetrators and incredible remorse for the victims affected. All three point to a terrifying trend – that it’s possible to loseWeight Exercise control of how others perceive us – and not in a way that can be remedied by an apology or blanket statement.

In The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin depicted Facebook founders’ consciousness of the implications of sex and the college party scene. Sean Parker, (played by Justin Timberlake) on a cocaine fueled monologue, lectures the Facebook interns about the possibility of tagging friends in pictures, of being able to relive these moments moments after they happen.

After college students graduate or parents request cyber-friendship, many increase their profile’s privacy. As young adults become young professionals, preening an online image can become difficult to control. A video or picture tagged for a few friends can easily reach a strata never intended.

If this is the current trend – a free-for-all of personal information – will this make a society more open and understanding to differences, or ostracize those unwillingly exposed?

Lauren Barnett

Lauren graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2008 with a BA in Mass Communication. Upon graduation, and at the suggestion of a friend, she moved to Philadelphia to explore the 'real world' outside of academia. Ousting herself out of her comfort zone and plopping herself in the middle of a diverse city with thriving culture, she found work in a pizza restaurant, which was quickly followed by a return to the academic world, with a position on a peer-reviewed science journal. Simultaneously, Lauren worked closely with a youth literacy, after-school program, participating in the local art scene, hoping to one-day return to an academic setting separate from images of dissected nude mice. As a first year student in the CCT program, Lauren's interest currently include from net neutrality, education and technology, and the new role of journalism in the era of the Internet.