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.