When Revelations Go Bad

When Simon Owens tried out his Craig’s List social experiment, he was discreet and respectful enough to edit out names, phone numbers, and photographs out of the responses.

Unfortunately, as Andy Baio reports, Jason Fortuny (a blogger who I will not link to) conducted the same experiment, but published his unedited results to a public forum. They contained photos, contact information, and the like. As a result, many of the men who responded to Fortuny’s stunt have begged him to remove the entries. Fortuny has refused. Here then is the moral question: How many marriages, relationships, and professional lives will be uprooted because of Fortuny’s antics? Because Fortuny derives great pleasure in ruining people?

This is unconscionable and invasive. But it is also, unfortunately, well within the law. Unless the victims of this hoax might somehow prove that they were misled or coerced, or suffered considerable emotional distress, I cannot see any restitution here. Further, even if a prosecuting attorney obtains a protective order, what is to prevent the information posted by Fortuny from being disseminated or mirrored somewhere else?

My own policy with emails and comments is to keep any personal information conveyed to me along these lines private or, should someone post a public comment with this kind of information, I will replace the numerals with Xs after I have approved it and released it to the public. I do this out of courtesy to any and all individuals who may not understand the virulent nature of the Internet.

It is Fortuny’s ethics here which must come into question. The Internet has long been a place where people have trusted the confessional timbre of email, shooting off incredibly personal messages and information through IMs and messages. But sent to the wrong party or through the wrong conduits, an innocuous revelation or a step forward at intimacy might prove to have serious ramifications.

Someone was going to come along and do something along these lines, exposing the dark underbelly of this mostly amicable beast. But this may set an unfortunate precedent. Will Fortuny’s stunt apply to online journalism? Will personal information extend to the infamous Apple case?

I will be watching these results with interest and concern.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m saddened that what I predicted would happen actually did. Already, this case has broken up at least one marriage that I’ve heard about (an lj user). Just wait until google indexes that site, ti’ll get worse.

  2. here’s the incredible thing. he’s supposedly a very capable tech nerd, except it took 3 minutes to find out that his address is
    XXXXXX
    and his phone number is xxx-XXX-XXXX.
    what a moron.

    [EDITOR’S NOTE: Personal information removed.]

  3. Actually, what he did is illegal, as illegal as it would be for you to take private emails and publish them. There is an expectation of privacy, same as there is when I give my address and phone and other details to an online merchant.

    It’s this expectation of privacy that allows people to sue when you take pictures of them inside a public restroom, but not on the street.

    As a practical matter, you are correct, your emails and tons of other stuff sent via the Internet can and will be disseminated widely. But the minute that starts happening as a regular basis is the minute social networking sites (LJ, Facebook, etc.) and all blog commentary die for all but the young or stupid.

    And as a practical matter, why take down Jason’s perosnal info, like he’s trying to do? He clearly doesn’t respect anyone else’s wishes and is doing the opposite of someone who thinks he’s done something wrong (running to Tucker Max for advice).

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