Dave Weigel of The Washington Post has resigned over his juvenile postings on an e-list. Basically the postings allowed for Weigel’s mask to slip, and showed him to be a vulgar and immature young man in some contexts. That’s no different from many of us in the proper context. The e-list is now defunct because of this information break.
Someone like Dave Weigel, a reporter who has to make a public pretense toward objectivity, and a somewhat public person, is atypical. But I think it’s the tip of the iceberg. People who know me in “real life” know that nothing they say to me will ever show up on this blog; it’s private, and my day to day interactions almost never intersect with the topicality here. If I want to introduce an idea or concept that someone else familiarized me with I will ask if I can do so, and credit them if they request. But that’s the nature of this blog, which draws more upon the scientific literature or reader feedback. Other outlets blur the line between private & public more explicitly, and if you meet someone with such an outlet, watch what you say, watch what you do. I’ve been on private e-lists where people say things that in public that could really compromise them. I’ve even gotten into disputes with people who were taking one stand in public which I knew could be easily undercut if I “exposed” what they’d said in private.
In the short term by breaking down barriers to information flow the internet is going to result in people retrenching to the narrowest and most trusted circles to “let their hair down.” In the long term I think we might have to reconceptualize what we think of as private or public. Soon enough a whole host of data on anyone you meet will be available on demand. And your data will also be available to them.