Freedom of speech is an interesting concept. On the one hand it allows people to question ideas, even the idea of free speech. On the other, it supposedly protects people like violentacrez, arguably the worst troll on the internet, and allows them to twist it into something like /r/creepshots or /r/jailbait (both now closed), subreddits devoted to non-consensual fetishization of women and young girls. Indeed, even the fetishzisation of non-consent itself. Gawker reporter Adrian Chen looked up violentacrez in real life and in a completely unsurprising turn of events more than 60 subreddits have now banned all Gawker media links. To be fair the scandal started a little earlier when Jezebel featured an article about Predditors, a tumblr devoted to gathering together the publicly available information of contributors to the /r/creepshots subreddit. In a fabulous bit of hypocrisy a number of Redditors are crying foul about people’s lives being ruined by this bout of doxxing as if slut-shaming and bullying over surreptitiously taken photos weren’t real things that happened to actual people.
But, well, here’s the thing; no one has actually broken any laws (well, to be perfectly honest some laws were probably broken by several members – including a teacher – posting up-skirt photos of underage girls. The teacher is currently under investigation by the police). Not the pillocks flirting with the covetable label of rapist/sexual abuser nor the people doxxing them. But the whole thing, on both sides has a decidedly icky feel to it. Both sides are exploiting the fact that laws are blunt instruments to further their own agenda, making other people pay the consequences. And while speech is certainly free in any seemingly democratic nation it is never without consequences.
But what most has my head in knots over this issue is the expectation of privacy and the question, are any of us truly entitled to it? Certainly the /r/creepshots crowd would have us think that as soon as women step outside our bodies become a public commodity to be consumed in any way any and all random passersby deem fit (it’s somewhat sad and funny at the same time how much the “freedom of speech” crowd have in common with religious extremists). On the other hand, people like Mark Zuckerberg are constantly rallying for the idea that in the future everything will be open and public on the internet (a notion that itself is the stuff of nightmares).
What is the extent of privacy? How different is it and how different should it be for us regular oiks compared to for example celebrities? Come to that, for the purpose of this discussion what is a celebrity? Is John Scalzi a big enough celebrity to have waived away his privacy? Is Britney Spears? Robyn perhaps? Neil Gaiman or Amanda Palmer rather? How much of one’s privacy is lost as the consequence of committing a crime? How much should be? Should one’s actions online be separated from one’s person in the real world? When the right to free speech of one person and the right to bodily autonomy of a wholly separate person intersect which of them should give way? Why does that change based on the gender or celebrity status of either party?
I don’t have the answers. To be fair I’m not even sure what I think. There are answers out there. Maybe.