Today’s decision by the US Supreme Court sent a clear message about the importance of context for making decisions about what we see online. It was bad news for victims of online harassment and their advocates but good news for parents of kids not thinking about the impact of their online speech and actions.
“The Supreme Court ruled in favor of “a Pennsylvania man who posted several violent messages [against his estranged wife] on Facebook and was convicted under a federal threat statute,” CNN reported. But if this ruling comes up in classroom or family discussions, it’s important for parents and educators to tell kids that this decision was not the US’s highest court saying that physical threats in social media is acceptable. What the Court’s saying is that the lower court that convicted the man for his online speech didn’t have enough to convict him “based solely on the idea that a reasonable person would regard” the man’s comments in Facebook as a threat. “The Court held that the legal standard used to convict him was too low, but left open what the standard should be.”
The decision was about legal process not what people can or can’t say online or even how what’s said should be taken by others. It says that courts – and in the case of young people, parents, school administrators and law enforcement – need context. They can’t rely on what any “reasonable person” sees in a post or comment to decide what to do about the post or comment. Read more
When I read this sentence in a New York Times review of the Apple Watch, I thought of the privacy spectrum of the digital age:
Apple “seems to be pushing a vision of the Watch as a general-purpose remote control for the real world, a nearly bionic way to open your hotel room, board a plane, call up an Uber or otherwise have the physical world respond to your desires nearly automatically.”
That’s the “convenience” end of the spectrum that we all need to be aware is actually not “private” vs. “public.” More than anything else, what “threatens” our personal and data privacy, if we want to think of it in terms of a threat, is our collective (and seemingly growing) addiction to convenience. For example, if for convenience (so we don’t have to go into Settings to get directions to our kid’s play date in real time), we want to have our smartphone’s geolocation capability always turned on, our movements can be tracked. So we’re closer to the Convenience end of the spectrum than the Privacy end. The same goes for flirting or showing off using photo-sharing apps, having the state of our health or a child’s academic performance stored in databases, being able to secure our homes from a distance, and having all our contacts and other info about us and our lives at our fingertips wherever we are. Read more
It looks like Russell Brand has struck a chord. The other day the actor, comedian and commentator posted a thoughtful, very personal video about the film 50 Shades of Gray, pornography and sexualized culture that has already gotten nearly a half a million views.
“This cloud of pornographic information and even soft cultural smog like 50 Shades of Gray … is making it impossible for us to relate to our sexuality and our own psychology and our own spirituality,” Brand said. “Whether or not this is porn from a female perspective, it is still the commodification and mainstreaming of soft-core porn. What does soft-core porn do to us? And what does porn in general do to both men and women and the way we relate to each other?”
He quotes a religious leader as saying that porn doesn’t reveal too much, it reveals too little, “extracting sex from its biological, emotional and psychological context,” he said, not to mention its ethical context. From the Journal of Adolescent Health, he cites these effects of prolonged exposure to porn, effects he says he himself is trying to address in his own life:
- An exaggerated perception of sex in society
- Diminished trust between intimate couples
- Abandoned hope of sexual monogamy
- The belief that promiscuity is a natural state
- Other effects he cited from a Texas-based psychologist Gary Brooks: voyeurism (looking at not interacting with someone); objectification of women (“Guilty,” Brand said. “I’ve been acculturated; this is something I work on, to see everybody as equal human beings”); “the need to validate masculinity through beautiful women”; “trophyism, women as collectibles”; “fear of true intimacy – inability to relate to women in a real and intimate way despite deep loneliness.”