Let’s Talk About Internet Privacy

This is in response to some reactions from my previous post: Man Harasses Woman On Facebook, Gets Exposed, Whines Like A Little Baby. . .

Some people don’t like the idea of me, or others who shared this, sharing Alexandre Chbeir’s name and pictures online. What about his right to privacy? I thought I should address this, because that is a good point, especially for me as I have written about privacy many times, including just recently regarding the jurors in the Cosby trial, as well as in earlier posts regarding Tim Cook’s sexuality, or the subject of celebrity naked pictures. I believe in protecting people’s privacy, that’s actually one of my most core beliefs. However, there are times when an expectation of privacy should not be assumed.

I’ll talk about a personal incident I went through a few months ago. This man I know, who used to date my brother (yes, they’re gay), posted a picture on Instagram of a man he saw while riding on the bus. He posted it, and wrote about how he couldn’t believe how fine this man was, and so that’s why he secretly took the picture. A lot of men posted in the comments that they agreed how hot he was, but one said he thought this was creepy, and I agreed. And this sparked an argument. The man said that he’s seen plenty of other people, men and women, do the same thing, but I said this still doesn’t make it right. A man is just riding a bus, minding his own business, and someone secretly takes his picture and then posts it publicly to comment on his appearance? That’s not cool. Not cool at all. And I think most people weren’t seeing the problem with this just because the man did this to talk about how good the man looked.

But what if he’d done the same thing to someone else and posted about how ugly the person was? I think most (decent) people would have a problem with that. As we saw in response to the case of Dani Mathers, the woman who took a picture of another woman in a gym shower and posted it on Snapchat to mock her. She was universally condemned, and rightly faced criminal charges for that.

Of course, that’s not exactly the same, as Mathers took a picture of someone naked in a shower, where there is a legitimate assumption of privacy, as opposed to that fellow on the bus. Like it or not, when you’re out in public, everything you do is potentially public. There are cameras everywhere, from traffic cameras, to security cameras, not to mention everyone with their personal cameras and smartphones. You never completely know when you’re being watched and/or recorded. Nevertheless, unless you are a public figure, or are in the act of committing some crime or even just making a spectacle of yourself, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to not expect that strangers will be posting pictures of you online to talk about you. So I felt that that was crossing the line. And I feel that Alexandre Chbeir’s actions crossed a line, as well.

First, if you haven’t seen it, take a look at this post of mine: ANOTHER “NICE GUY” FINISHES LAST…

The TL;DR version of this is that a man tracked a woman down on Facebook, a woman who works at a store that he shops at, and over the course of three days repeatedly presses her to talk to him, eventually professing how he’d “worship” her. She then told him off and blocked him. And, as usual, there were plenty of people (by “people”, I mean “men”) who read the exchange, and blamed her for being “too harsh” towards him. While most of us rightly mocked him for his antics, and pointed out how that was a small example of the kind of things many women experience online. Now, the woman in this instance shared the screenshots of his messages, but blocked out his last name and pictures. She wasn’t trying to publicly expose him. But here’s the thing that I never added: I know who that guy is.

I didn’t know it when I first read or posted about it, but I quickly found out that by sheer coincidence, this man happened to be a regular member of a now-defunct message board that I was also a member and regular participant on. First I was told via Facebook by another friend from that board, and then I went to the board where the was a thread discussing it. He had been banned from the board by then, but even in the thread everyone made a point not to be identify him by his screen-name or his real name. And I also did not “out” him publicly, there were some members who didn’t know whom we were talking about, and I’d tell them via PM, I also told a Facebook friend who had followed the story. But I didn’t think his real name and image needed to be revealed to the world.

The major difference between him and Alexandre Chbeir, is that this other man’s behavior was, at most, annoying. He never reached the point of calling her names or insulting her. So I saw no need to put him “on blast,” as we say in the hood. That’s a key point. Online harassment is a problem, especially for women, and should be called out.

Now, some would argue either way that we are talking about private conversations being shared, and that they find that wrong. But I think there’s also a major difference when you’re talking about someone messaging a stranger, vs someone messaging someone they know. That latter does include an expectation of privacy, the former doesn’t, in my opinion. You send an unsolicited message to someone, for whatever reason, that’s a risk you’re taking. You don’t know what they might do with that message. They have no obligation to keep your privacy, since they didn’t ask for you to message them. So if you’re doing something dirty, or try to flirt with them and getting angry and insulting when they don’t reply the way you wanted, they have the right to share that with the world. Likewise, with regards to another situation I wrote about. A woman named Arlene Brock message a friend of mine, whom that woman doesn’t know, but is friends with her husband on Facebook, telling her to that she’s told her husband to unfriend her. Again, it’s an unsolicited message, she didn’t know my friend, so my friend has no obligation to keep that private. And it was one thing to just laugh at Arlene for clearly being insecure in her marriage, but it’s when she had to throw in the racist comment at the end, that I felt she deserved to be publicly shamed.

And, to be clear, I don’t agree with online vigilantism. This is something you need to be careful about. I recall a couple of years ago there was site on Tumblr called Racists Getting Fired, where people would screenshot captions from people’s Facebook or Twitter profiles where the person said something racist, and people who check the person’s profile to see where they worked, and then send those screencaps to their employers, to try to get them fired. Hitting back at racists seems all good, right? Who can feel sorry for them?

Until there was a guy who created a fake profile of his ex-girlfriend, and posted something racist on it, just to try to get her fired.

So I see how easy it can be to target innocent people, and just join in a virtual lynch mob, and we should all watch out for that. But as I said, the thing that made me feel justified in sharing Alexandre Chbeir’s posts was when I saw that the initial exchange I’d seen was part of pattern. That he’d done and said worse to many other women across the net, including after he’d been exposed for his posts to Cassandra Fox. We can see he hadn’t learned his lesson, and still thought of himself as the victim, and so therefor my conscious was clear about my decision to post about him. Because sometimes public shame is the best weapon.

So, the bottom line for everyone is, watch what you say, and who you say it to.

What do YOU think?

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