Adria Richards, Steubenville and Privacy

**Dangerous waters ahead.  This is a post for rational thinkers and observers, not those who react simply on emotion or reflex.  You have been warned.**

You’ve surely read both stories by now.  If not, here’s the quick recap:

Richards: Goes to conference, takes some pictures, tweets about being offended, gets all involved fired.

Steubenville: Football players party, rape drunk girl, tweets about it, get jail time.

There are links if you want to read more.  Or, you know, Google.

So to me these are both kind of the same issue.  Privacy.  Yes, of course there are bigger items at play, namely harassment and rape, respectively.  But I think it’s safe to say we are all against both of those things.  I hope, anyway.  And yes, there are questions about the details in both cases.  But we move past that for discussion purposes.

There are significant privacy issues in both cases, and it seems that they are being taken from opposite directions by many.  In the Steubenville case, the public is generally appalled at the photos of an unconscious girl being circulated by these young men, and an extra year was added to his term for it.  Assault aside, it was an invasion of her privacy that warranted additional punishment.  And that feels right to most, at least judging by public response.

Richards posted pictures of two men who were sitting behind her making jokes at a conference.  Again, taking the story at face value, she was offended by their remarks, and chose to tweet out their pictures with her displeasure.  One of the men and Richards have been fired over the incident.  And once again the public is appalled, only this time it is much more divided as to for whom.  (It should be noted that Richards’ job is as a technology evangelist, so her company determined she would no longer be able to function effectively in that role.)

Many have cried foul over her dismissal, as she was calling out harassment, at least in her eyes.  Others are angry that the men in the picture were fired because of her tweet.  I find it interesting that there are far fewer people, though, that are referring to these men as “victims.”  They were, by all accounts, engaged in private conversation, and their picture was taken under circumstances that do not include anyone saying, “I’d like to post you on Twitter and complain about your sexist jokes.”

Why is the invasion of their privacy less offensive to us than the Steubenville victim?  From an intellectual standpoint they are very similar.  Their picture were shared without their full consent, and included derogatory content that will effect their life in a significant way.  Yes, there is an emotional element at play, and the damage isn’t on the same level.  But then, getting fired and going to jail aren’t either, so the level of punishment is in line with the crime, I think.

We live in a world where privacy is at a premium.  Your pictures are online, and you may or may not be getting tagged in them.  In fact, getting tagged may be the only way you find out!  Are we OK with that level of access?  Do we not have the right to know when our images or stories are being shared?  Why is it OK, under any circumstances, for someone to take our picture and complain about a private conversation  activity or belief without our permission?  And should anyone, on either side of the transaction, lose their job over it?

I’m interested to know if there are those who are fully behind Richards and are outraged at her firing who are also pleased to see the young man in Steubenville getting extra jail time.  To me they are very similar, and if you support one, you should logically support both.  People aren’t great at separating emotion from this kind of issue, so if you have a response, please try to keep it on the logical plane of discussion.

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