Thursday, May 29, 2008

Blogging is like Marriage, and why I still have a bone to pick with Lynne Slettevold

Marriage is a public institution. You and your beloved make your feelings known publicly. Part of the reason is so the public knows what you've decided to be, and that knowing this, they can respect you and your beloved's decision. Naturally, while these may be the overt intentions, it is expecting an awful lot from both society and one's beloved to behave honorably ad infinitum, forsaking all others until death us do part, forever and ever amen. What that means is can we rely on our partners (blogs) to be faithful to us, and can we rely on the public not to interfere into what ought to be certain private places in our public enterprises that are, shall we say, relatively off-limits (eve if just off the beaten track), or else - and worse, ought we to expect the public and the media to commit adultery with our beloved? Of course not.

No reasonable and rational public or public entity would dare to operate in a way to fly in the face of public decency. Or...else...? Interestingly, there is even a
Divorce Act which rightly protects the interests of both parties (including from one another) but also from media intrusion. Note this is post marriage. Sunday Times went to court recently to challenge this law, citing a right to publish and the public’s to receive information[on parties going through a divorce]. Whether the Sunday Times won their challenge, I'm not sure. After all, even Billy Gundelfinger has stated:

“For me, the mechanism for protecting the identity of the parties should be maintained, if only to serve the interests of children,” said Gundelfinger. “In my experience it is not at all rare that children are harmed in divorce actions, and would suffer irreparable harm if their identities were made known.”

Billy Gundelfinger said he feared a return to the practice of some newspapers in the ’70s – before the introduction of the law — in which “whole pages” were devoted to a round-up of divorce cases, including “all the gory details”.

Here is an interesting case where the media, pleading for the law to keep step with the 'changing values of society' is asking for the right to make public confidential and sensitive information pertaining to private family information in particularly trying circumstances. To test whether this is something that should be allowed, simply ask: if you were getting divorced, would you like the newspapers to cover it, including what your partner thinks and feels about you? But everyone knows how protective and controlling the media is of bloggers reporting on their own/internal and thus sensitive corporate information. Isn't this a double standard? Once again, in terms of the law, and how it applies to blogs and all the sensitivities involved, there ought to be a simple application and observance of logic, common law common sense, and ordinary manners.

What I am saying essentially is that while blogs operate in the public domain, so do marriages, and in an obvious and ordinary sense, ordinary rules of decency apply. So, for example, if a blogger makes a mistake at work (or even if he/she doesn't), or if a blogger aims to make a case against an aggrieving party, to what extent is handpicked content from the complainants blog relevant in the aggrieved party's rebuttal? To what extent is the public's right to what happens in a marriage/divorce relevant to ordinary work/civil processes, even if it is ostenibly a relationship concluded in the publid domain? In fact personal details do not belong to one's colleagues, one's boss...except as a useful means to smear and besmirch? Is that where the exception is allowed? The answer is, blogs are probably not very relevant until they say something that is of and in itself relevant.

But recent history has shown that those outsiders (managers/bosses, people in positions of authority) who want to use blogs against their blogging owners have been allowed free reign to do so. This is likely to change, as ordinary common laws come to into play, and as these situations arise more and more frequently. Because what seems to some to be very fuzzy math is actually about plain old good and decent manners at the end of the day.

So am I wrong to mention someone who has displayed bad manners? It depends how honestly/maliciously I make that representation. What are my underlying intentions. And I think the impact of the communication has to be balanced against the injury experienced. Lynne Slettevold is an example, and I'd like to re-address that experience here, because it's relevant.

Imagine you are climbing a mountain. A high mountain, not just any mountain. You and your guide agree that when you get to the top, your guide will take a photo of you, to prove you have climbed the mountain. You have many important reasons for climbing the mountain, but part of the reason to do it is to have testimony, evidence, of your achievement. Perhaps you need to prove to the world you reached the top in order that other climbers who wish to do the same will pay for your services. Except when you come back down the mountain, your guide, inexplicably refuses to hand over the photographic evidence. Thus to a large extent, the great costs, the various resources employed in this very laborious expedition, all the ambitions behind the project, are to a large extent effectively laid to waste.

The mountain in this analogy is code for a Photo Exhibition I held. It's a case of unrepentant and unacceptable bad manners. But that's all it is. Tomorrow there's a post about fitness, the next day about good food, the next about insomnia. Life goes on, and of course if Lynne felt so terrible about whatever she did, she could call me up at any time and say, here's what we agreed. Then I would naturally feel - wow, now what I said in the past no longer applies. Except that that hasn't happened, and so what I said does apply.: Someone didn't do something they were supposed to do. Boo hoo. End of story. But if I were to expand on that and start to violate her right to privacy (where she lives, where she works, placing photos of her on the net, describing my skewed insights into her private light) then suddenly the ultimate perpetrator of bad manners is me. And I think that is easy to see.

I think as a blogger one also has to walk the fine line between addressing things and venting. I once vented over a cyclist, B, and although I remain really pissed off about what happened that day (during a 180km cycle race), I didn't realise she would read the vent herself. But then I didn't write it necessarily for anyone to read. In a sense it was like a diary entry, because for goodness sake, if 50% of your readers are from the UK, and the USA, and your South African visitors are 50% random, and those who aren't aren't interested in cycling, then it's not even going to be boo hoo to them. But if no one is going to read this super-personal stuff, why blog it? Why indeed. So in that particular case I don't think there was much point. All I achieved was to actually worsen the situation, which was not my intention, although I don't feel like I had any malicious intent other than to express my misery and misfortune in a bicycle race. The end certainly didn't justify the means, but having clearly expressed my pain and heartache, I also learned subsequently the extent of her lack of remorse. Eeek. Stop writing about this!

Anyone can apply the basic model and moral of fairness and manners to the internet (and to the media) in order to test whether our use of information is warranted, in the public interest - truly - or simply bad manners to whatever end.

Blogs are going to be up for grabs and up for scrutiny a lot more going into the future, and probably will initially lose 'challenges' against them. But blogs and bloggers are becoming more powerful every day, and even if sanity does not prevail, perhaps the cyber-lynching sensibilities of the blogging masses will.

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