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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Not everything needs to be shared

This post may seem odd. Odd, because a great deal is happening in the world of politics, and a non-political Sunday post feels irresponsible. And it's odd because blogging is often a confessional avocation, making it a bit hypocritical for a blogger to argue in favor of privacy.

No, this isn't another NSA diatribe. In this piece, I want to talk about a different aspect of privacy: The social aspect. We have forgotten the advantages of keeping oneself to oneself. Hiding oneself is a virtue which our culture needs to rediscover.

The immediate impetus for this post was this Salon interview with a woman victimized by "doxxing."  This slang term refers to personal information placed on the internet by enemies or pranksters. In this case, "Elizabeth" has had sexualized photos -- created for the enjoyment of a former boyfriend -- placed online. Now they are being ogled on sites devoted to "non-consensual porn." Such sites, one might argue, constitute a kind of rape.

I feel awful for this young lady. Nothing said here should be construed as blaming the victim. I have zero sympathy for those monsters who have bedeviled her. But...

...well, read the following:
I woke up one morning and I was not able to enter either my email or my Facebook account. I’m a very scatterbrained person, so I thought I forgot my passwords. But then, when I got back into my email, it was filled with 300 or 400 emails, which were just your market variety dick pics to “you’re a fucking slut” to “I hate you” to, lastly, a few, “I’m sorry, can I help you?”

It could have been my ex-boyfriend who did it and tried to smooth over his tracks by messing with my email. It could have been someone who had followed me online [hacking into my email]. There are a lot of porn sites where you can upload normal Facebook profile pictures and names of a person and say, “I think this girl is hot. Can anyone work on her email for me?” They make tasks that then hacker guys use as exercises.
This passage says all sorts of troubling things about our culture, including a problem that many readers may not have noticed. It is now assumed that any hacker who gains access to an attractive young woman's email will discover nude images or images involving sexual acts.

In other words, it has become expected -- almost mandatory -- for our daughters to get naked in front of a camera. Every girl does it. The first nude shot has become one of the standard stages of development: Her first bra, her first kiss, her first sexual encounter, her first nude photo, her first on-camera act of fellatio. A girl is now considered weird if she doesn't hit those markers.

I'm older than many of you are. Do you have any idea how freaky this culture seems to me?

Nobody ever accused me of being a blue-nose. Jeez, I grew up with hippies. Downright debauched, I am. (Or was. After the beard turns grey, fiendishness isn't as easy as it once was.)

During my training as an artist, I took several classes with live models who were quite naked, and happy to be so. I'm old enough to recall a time when art was the only socially acceptable way to display the naked body.

How strange things are now! How things have changed!

An oil painting of a nude woman, no matter how skillfully executed, is considered embarrassing -- bad taste. In the art world, noses have turned a shade of deep blue that Maxfield Parrish could never quite reach. Nudes are acceptable only if the artist advertises his honesty by painting bloated, unattractive people (see: Lucien Freud) or if the artist depicts hunky men. (The guys who run New York's gallery scene always have a soft spot for images of the latter kind -- although "soft" may not be the right word.)

And yet nudity is everywhere. We live in America the Nude. Today, the only place a young woman may not go unclothed is on a canvas.

Allow me to make a shocking suggestion -- and remember, I am not blaming the victim. Do not scry moralism into these words. I'm not being judgmental; I'm simply talking strategy.

Get ready to be outraged...

The best way to assure that nude photos of yourself do not escape "into the wild" is for those nude photos not to exist.

"But..." (I hear some young woman out there saying) "...those shots were meant only for my boyfriend!" If he's your boyfriend, he probably already knows what you look like.

You do not need to be naked in front of a camera. Honest. You really don't.


If you have a beautiful body and you want to preserve some record of it, why not form a partnership with someone who knows what to do with a kolinsky paintbrush? In the old days, great things came of such collusions. You could end up in a museum instead of a scummy "dox" site. If you want to do nudity right, that's how to do it.

If you feel compelled to pose for a camera, why not keep those shots well away from the internet? No email, no attachments, no wifi, no ethernet, no nothin'. Think hard drives and jump drives. Yeah, I know: That way of thinking is so 1999. But y'know what? Things were safer then -- more controllable. Anything "internetized" stands an excellent chance of becoming uncaged.

And that brings us to a related topic: All of that information you younguns feel compelled to share on Facebook. Stop it. You can't be doxxed if you keep mum.

Facebook is a completely unnecessary part of your lives.

I know that the preceding sentence seems heretical or surreal, but it's really true. Not long ago, I heard of a woman who was near tears because Boyfriend A placed a sentimental birthday greeting on a public page where it might be seen by Boyfriend B. How to avoid such problems? Simple: Don't use Facebook.

Or, at least, be very circumspect in how you use Facebook.


In the old days, diaries had locks. But even then, the keeping of a diary was a foolish act, because the locks were flimsy. A wise man once said that anyone who keeps a diary secretly wants to have his or her words read by an eavesdropper. That's why I never kept a journal.

That's also why I try never to let passersby see the books I'm reading. If they see your reading material, they've seen you naked. Arguably, that form of nudity is naked-er than nakedness itself.

One encounters "the privacy problem" even in daily conversation. Talking is supposed to be a form of communication, not self-expression. Dialogue is not a brain dump.

Just because an idea pops into your brain doesn't mean it has to seep out between your lips.

I can't count the number of times I've encountered people who seemed downright insane because they insisted on spewing out a reference to something far removed from the other person's experience. When you speak, try to understand that your listener is not in your head and does not have access to your memories.

If you see a short person, you don't have to mutter the name "Dinklage." Seriously. You don't need to say it. If you do, you're an impulsive idiot who feels compelled to vocalize every stray synaptic connection that ought to stay locked within your cranium. And if you feel that you absolutely must blurt out that name, make sure that you do so only if you are surrounded by people who know who the fuck Peter Dinklage is -- because even though the guy's a damned great actor, not everyone has seen Game of Thrones. Someone who can't place that name is going to think you've gone batty if you say "Dinklage" out loud for no discernible reason.

Just because an idea pops into your brain doesn't mean it has to seep out between your lips.

We need to reconfigure our entire culture around this message: Silence is good. Privacy is good. Keeping oneself to oneself is good.

Sharing one's innermost self is not always good. Sharing should be done with thought and care. Sharing is for your intimates -- for the people with whom you say tu, if you are French.

And that brings us back to the unfortunate young lady who had those intimate photos spread to a community of scoundrels. The introduction to her Salon interview contains this troubling passage:
I decided to interview Elizabeth, a European currently studying in America, as a means of going deeper on the topic. At her suggestion, we spoke via Skype for greater intimacy, because she tends to get emotional when talking about her experience being doxxed — and indeed she did. At a few points in our conversation — notably when talking about the ways her future has been limited by her harassers — she had to pause to collect herself or wipe tears from under her eyes.
(Emphasis added.) There she goes again, poor girl. The same mistake, made in a different way.

"Elizabeth" has yet to learn that there are many types of porn (a point once made by James Joyce, of all people) -- including emotional porn. Why would anyone conducting an interview for public consumption deliberately seek intimacy? Let's put the matter crudely: What is the difference between placing your nipples on display and placing your tears on display?

Arguably, tears are more private. In ancient Egypt, respectable women painted their nipples gold and went topless in public, but they did not weep in front of just anyone. Weeping is not supposed to be a spectator sport. Tears are for your friends and family.

Alas, at some point within my lifetime -- in the 1970s, I think -- our society decided to toss aside that important lesson. 

When young men and women learn the virtue of privacy, of not sharing, then fewer people will feel invaded and degraded. Brigands cannot easily invade your inner sanctum if you keep it guarded. It's easy to make fun of those who are, by nature, reserved and taciturn. But such people are less vulnerable.
I am a few years older than you, Joseph, and I know how things used to be. It's all gotten out of hand.

I use Facebook mostly to connect with old classmates and family members. That's it. There is nothing on my FB page that is controversial or can even be construed to be controversial.

I don't understand why people feel they have to bare all to a camera knowing these photos can be spread all over the world. Common sense isn't so common anymore.
In this piece, I want to talk about a different aspect of privacy: The social aspect. We have forgotten the advantages of keeping oneself to oneself. Hiding oneself is a virtue which our culture needs to rediscover.

If only your blog didn't expect commenters to sign into Google by default...

All kidding aside, Joseph, I'm also a few years older than you. Despite a long career at the cutting-edge of high tech, despite having been on the Internet since it was still known as the ARPAnet, despite having had email longer than my 40-something wife has been alive:

I don't FaceBorg.

I don't Twit (and make no mistake about it, that's the proper term).

I use Google pretty sparingly through a VPN to obscure my IP address, I block banners, ads, trackers, etc., and I use a search fuzzer to generate enough search chaff to make their analytic processes difficult (though clearly not impossible).

I honestly can't imagine why anyone would want a FaceBorg account.

As Lambert over at Corrente likes to say, if you're not paying for the product (and sometimes even if you are), you are the product.
I dunno. I think the real story here are the guys who harassed the girl. Back when I could afford to indulge in it, I was very pro-nudity. Skinny-dipping, sheer clothing, pictures, you name it. I co-edited a zine that always featured a male centerfold...and we editors sometimes punctuated our own page with clothing-optional snapshots.

I'm with you, tho, on the journals. Baring one's inner self is another matter...but I understand why writers do it and feel the coward for my revelatory reticence.

Also, never ever tell people your dreams. There are some that speak enough of its metaphorical and punnish language to understand what the message was!

ps- Propertius, this blog allows one to enter their own name or nym. I love that option and never participate in those places that require some other account.

Facebook or (as a contributor to a British Ex-pats forum calls it) Arsebook , appears to be as big an addiction as any drug or alcoholic drink. Overdoing it has similar effect on one's inhibitions it seems.

I'm glad I'm old, so don't have the temptations of 2014, and the urge to Arsebook. The youth version of "keeping up with the Joneses" is so strongly felt, has always been, but the net has to intensify it greatly.
I'm another of your readers older than you Joseph, much older I think (was born same year as WW2 -British version!) Am I revealing too much? ;-)
@ prowlerzee

Google has merged all their accounts. If you have a gmail account and haven't logged off, posting here will automatically apply your name from the g-account, irregardless of which identity option you've chosen.
Well, let's see if that's true about gmail and evil Google. I access my gmail through Thunderbird, unless I'm unable to get to my own computer, in which case I muddle through pure, unmediated gmail. Thunderbird is always signed in, since the mail keeps coming through without my intervention, yet I think I'm going to be showing up here under my preferred name. If not, I'll try not to be too embarrassed.
I do have a question though. What can you do on facebook that you can not do using email or texting or messaging?
I am not being flip. I am not a facebook user so I am clueless about facebook.

I am not sure if you have heard of the women who had no nude pictures but were photoshopped onto/into them and then placed on these rape sites, which as you accurately pointed out. Anonymous took one guy to task recently for his behavior. Evil women hating hacking monsters exist. He has ruined the lives of more than one innocent woman.

Loose lips sink ships.

It's not rape. Rape is rape. This is not rape.

It's not really doxxing either, I believe the term is "revenge porn".

This is nothing new. Have you ever heard of posture photos? This used to be official policy at many American universities. Clinton did it. Supposedly they've all been destroyed now.

When keeping a diary, keep it in code.

Emotions are like shit, not inherently wrong but better not done in public.

I am a rock. I like rock. I don't use facebook. It's bad enough having a phone.

@ CambridgeKnitter

You are correct. It was my mistake which resulted in "CBarr" not appearing above my post. Google is not overriding identity choices.
CBarr...oh well. Thank you for your comments, all of which I treasure.

Not surprised that Google/Gmail is ratfucking us. But also my primary kneejerk response, pardon the vulgarity. They can suck my dick and I don't have one so they're shit out of luck. :/
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