Privacy is political. Next month the Pulitzer Prize committee will decide whether to honor reporting by The Washington Post and The Guardian that detailed surveillance of our private lives based on government documents made public by Edward Snowden.
Yet privacy is also personal. Yesterday Twitter user @steenfox asked her followers whether they had been sexually assaulted and, if so, what they were wearing. Then she said something unusual. She asked if it was okay to retweet the responses.
Twitter public. As Gawker wrote yesterday:
The things you write on Twitter are public. They are published on the world wide web. They can be read almost instantly by anyone with an internet connection on the planet Earth. This is not a bug in Twitter; it is a feature. Twitter is a thing that allows you to publish things, quickly, to the public.
And yet, that’s only part of the story. Everything on Twitter is public, but not everything is amplified. By asking her followers if it was okay to RT, @steenfox was asking if it was okay to amplify, okay to make a public utterance more public.
Where public is the default, public becomes a continuum. That’s why the FacebookCleavage subreddit is creepy. That’s why there is an entire body of scholarly literature on context collapse. Creating new practices and new vocabulary for privacy – ok2rt, for instance – is a step in the right direction. It is a way of re-asserting privacy preferences over technology designed to ignore them.