Sunday, October 28, 2007

Daniel Solove's "The Future of Reputation"

Daniel J. Solove is an Associate Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School. He is the author of The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (2004) and Information Privacy Law (2006).

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, and reported the following:
Open to page 99 of The Future of Reputation, and you're ensconced in shame. My book explores the privacy implications of the rise of blogging and social network websites. Today, anyone can create a blog or social network website profile in any name that says anything at all. For the first time in human history, any person can broadcast information to millions of strangers across the planet. Each of us has a permanent, searchable record — available instantly via Google for the rest of our lives to every employer, colleague, relative, neighbor, date, or friend. This is the future of reputation, and it will profoundly affect our lives.

The social practices of gossip and shaming have existed since antiquity, but they are taking on profound and alarming new dimensions when they occur online. What was previously fleeting is now permanent. What was previously localized is now accessible around the world.

Page 99 focuses on shaming, and it discusses one of the major problems of online shaming: "Internet shaming can devolve into vigilantism and violence." Shaming can and does serve valuable functions in society — it is a way of punishing people for transgressing norms. Shaming serves to maintain order in society by ensuring that norms are followed. But online shaming, because it often spirals out of control and takes on features of mob justice, can ironically thwart social order. It lacks due process or any sense of proportionality to the transgression.

In the book, I discuss what's at stake as people are increasingly expressing online details of their private lives — and the lives of their friends, family, co-workers, and others. The book contains numerous stories of people who were shamed or gossiped about on the Internet, and it discusses what we should do to protect people from being harmed. The rise of Internet speech is a truly wonderful thing, but there's a dark side that we must reckon with. We must establish a better balance between privacy and free speech, or else the freedom the Internet promises us will result in shackling people forever to their past mistakes or tying people to spurious rumors.
Read an excerpt from The Future of Reputation and learn more about the book and author at Daniel Solove's website, the Concurring Opinions blog, and the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue