Putting all your information out there — and having it turn around and destroy you

Some of you may have been aware of a very ugly situation that started when NewsRealBlog concluded that one of its contributors (not an employee, but a contributor), displayed a truly unhealthy sexual interest in young children.  Although the editors at NewsRealBlog are conservative, they also respect an individual’s right to privacy.  However, if an individual goes public, over and over and over, with bizarre and explicit posts focused obsessively on sex with children, they concluded (rightly) that it would be morally wrong to continue to have any type of association with that person.  Even if that specific individual hasn’t had sex with children, and isn’t even trying to have sex with children, using the internet as a forum to play out those fantasies is an active incitement to pedophilia that cannot be countenanced.

The whole thing should have ended there, as a reasonable decision by a collaborative blog not to publish unpaid writings from a source who, while sound on libertarian principles, proved to be an exceptionally unsavory human being in a way that endangers children.  Things went a little crazy, though, when David Frum, who apparently mentors Alex Knepper (the man at the center of the controversy) decided to stick up for him.  He did so by attacking NewsRealBlog.  The latter struck back with the most dangerous weapon of all:  facts.  [Warning:  Do NOT click the link if children are present.  Do NOT.  It’s truly icky stuff.]

Frum, rather than mumbling something about “Oh, I didn’t know that,” decided to counterattack by calling the NewsReal people witch hunters, cyber stalkers, McCarthyites, etc.  Interestingly, he didn’t deny Knepper’s sordid obsession with sexualizing children.  He just said it was unfair for NewsReal to find out about it.  And you know, if NewsReal had combed through garbage cans and hacked into private email accounts, there would have been a point to this charge, no matter how icky Knepper’s sensibilities are.  Once again, though, NewsReal slapped Frum down with facts.

The pivotal fact for purposes of my post here is that everything NewsReal found was just out there.  Knepper hadn’t made any effort to hide his thoughts on the subject.  He’d posted widely and wildly in a variety of public forums that could be accessed by a simple Google search.  In doing that, the 20 year old Knepper proved typical of his generation.  (By the way, apropos his age, his relative youth is no excuse, no matter what Frum says.  Knepper’s writing makes it clear that he is not a man just out of adolescence who still has his teenage girl friend from high school.  Instead, this is a man who lusts after prepubescent children, as well as young teenagers.)

We’ve all noticed that we are raising a generation that views the internet as its community, just as it views the local playground, the school yard or the neighborhood hangout as community.  The boundaries of privacy that we adults feel do not exist for this up and coming generation.  Knepper had no compunction about putting his sexual fantasies out into the ether.  He was talking to his “cyber friends,” and was unconcerned that the whole world could eavesdrop.

I see the same in my children.  No matter how often I tell them that the internet is a public square, with no privacy, and a permanent memory, they still place information out there that no adult from my era would ever contemplate making public.  Since my kids are still fairly young, they’re not posting things that are terribly embarrassing, and certainly not illegal, but they’re still private.  I’ve concluded that, at least in part, the problem isn’t that my kids don’t understand the internet’s ramifications.  The problem is that they don’t care.  The notion of a zone of individual privacy, a place where only you and a few invited guests can go, is alien to them.

Right now, my husband and I simply remind our children that whatever is out there will remain in perpetuity for colleges and potential employers to examine.  We hope that their self-interest is sufficient to rein them in.

I do wonder, though, if we’re seeing a new era of privacy.  Or perhaps what we’re really seeing is an old era of privacy.  The privacy we enjoy is a modern construct, resulting from affluence and a large population.  We live behind closed doors and our world is made up of strangers who don’t care about us.  In the old days, people lived in small communities, and often shared homes, rooms and even beds.  (In the Middle Ages, a whole family would sleep on one flea-ridden straw mattress, with the sheep and cows arrayed around them for warmth.)  People lived in public then, just as our children are starting to do now.  I guess it’s only strange for those of us trying to bridge the gap as we shift from one paradigm to another.

For an extremely good post summarizing this whole episode, and giving Knepper a chance to defend himself (although I don’t think he succeeds in doing so), please check out John Hawkin’s post at Right Wing News.

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  • kali

    I still remember, with great pleasure, a young, brilliant intern at a company I worked for. Impressed everyone from the top down, to the point a generous offer was going to be made. Until HR, in its usual sneaky and underhanded way, googled him and found a number of posts he’d made complaining about the company and bragging how he’d ripped it off . . .


    I don’t know what to call the era – era of error? For those of us who were born into the era of rotary telephones and gradually evolved into the world of tech, I feel as though we absorbed each new wonder with awe and gave it a place in our lives, but not in place of our lives. We still know how to write a proper thank you note, the old fashioned way – paper, pen, stamp. A generation of two born into the world of tech simply looks at it as the biggest bowl of candy they’ve ever seen – to be eaten all at once.
    The corner of Cyber World  and La La Land is a dangerous intersection and too many believe they can run into the middle of traffic and not get run over. It never ceases to amaze me that the level of stupidity and shamelessness rises with each technical advancement.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    There’s a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of newer generations on what exactly constitutes space.
    There are generally three types of space, which are considered property with specific owners. Private space, owned and operated by one individual, like your body, emotions, and thoughts. It is natural to get angry when people tell you what to think and feel, because you consider that your domain which none have the right to trespass without your explicit consent. However, for a slave, being told what to think and feel is natural. It is the natural order of things.
    You see the difference do you not.
    The other two types of space are shared space and public space. Shared space consists of something like a rented apartment with multiple roommates or a house with rented out rooms. There is the shared space of the kitchen and living room, but the bedroom is private and off limits. While you can grab and use things in the kitchen, you don’t go into another person’s room and do the same thing there, acting like you are in a shared space. It is not a shared space, it is somebody else’s private space. Which you have not been given permission to enter or use.
    There are two ramifications or you might say causes to why there is a blurring of lines here.
    Lack of security awareness and lack of personal knowledge and training in securing security with one’s hands. Generally speaking, it means people have become soft, unaware, like sheep, and unable to defend themselves or anybody else around.
    Why do slaves need private possessions? They don’t have the right, legal or otherwise, to defend their own property, so why is it said that they own anything. They don’t own their bodies. They don’t own their life. They don’t own their time. They have no free time.
    Space is about ownership. The fine degree of lines separating different spaces is the result of a culture that has diversified and promoted private property ownership. When a family is poor and without resources, like in the Middle Ages, shared space is common. Because you don’t own a damn thing because it costs too much. Your family is lucky to own one small cottage and a farm. Thus everything is shared, because there is Not Enough Wealth to go around.
    The internet is the result of too much wealth, distributed all over, thus people don’t draw lines because it doesn’t occur to them that is necessary. There is no reason for private property on the net because no matter how many times you divide Youtube up for each individual in the world, It Does Not Decrease the Wealth of Youtube viewers or users. It is the opposite problem to poverty, though with the same result.
    The reason why the younger generation will edge closer to slaves rather than free explorers is that they don’t have the personal ability to defend their own body. If they cannot defend their own body, which is the first thing they have owned, and if they freely give it out like it has no value for sex and hookups, how do you think they will respond when facing a threat against their private property, life, liberty, and family? Their chances of successful resistance is lowered, is it not. Those that don’t recognize where personal space ends and shared/public space begins, are also more likely to start wars because they end up causing misunderstandings.
    You know the room mate that keeps using what is yours without asking and end up destroying your property and then act like it was theirs to begin with. On an international and national level, that starts conflicts, not simply arguments. Violent conflicts.
    To another extent, the internet has no enforcement literally, so there’s no reason to have private property when you nor anyone else can properly enforce “property rights”. The only way to generate security there is to simply keep your mouth shut, like people do when it comes to Real Secrets. But kids are too young, venal, and inexperienced. Keeping their mouths shut is not particularly a natural instinct of theirs. The culture of male hunting and being silent but deadly isn’t particularly in vogue these days.
    So in the end, it’s fine if youths treat the internet like a shared or public space. They just need to know when to put their foot down when intrusions happen on somebody’s private space. And they need to understand the borders of limitations of private space both to protect their own from harm as well as not to step on somebody else’s by accident. But do America’s current youths Actually know anything about self-defense, security, and border limitations?

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    ” era of error?”
    Call it errogance, a better upgraded version of Arrogance ; )

  • Mike Devx

    This generation has grown up with no expectations of privacy.  From adults gushing all secrets on shows as tawdry as Jerry Springer to even the slightly more restrained Oprah and Montel Williams, to blog posts and Facebook postings where incredibly intimate details are laid bare… it’s a free-for-all of information out there.  They’ve been “trained” by their own society and surroundings to expect to bare it all and to expect others to as well.

    That’s the status quo today.  It’s where the 87% hang out under the big bell curve, right in the middle.  It’s all they know.  On one side of that bell curve are the promiscuous verbal gushers, who would have told it all even in the early 50’s.  On the other side of that bell curve are the restrained ones who wouldn’t spill their soul for even a million dollars.  But the vast get-along go-along crowd in the middle simply follow society’s dictates, and society these days has told them: “If it feels good, DO IT.”   “And then tell the entire world about it!”

  • Spartacus

    1A) Everyone has a purpose in life.  For some, that purpose is simply to serve as a bright, burning, mangled, wrapped-around-the-guardrail beacon to others who are travelling down the Highway of Life.  Sad, but useful.  Without delving into moral commentary which should go without saying, such seems to be the path of Mr. Knepper.
    1B) An aunt of mine once commented on her observations of the gradual social decline in a small town of another aunt of mine (her sister-in-law): “She just annihilated [sic] herself wherever she went.”  “Alienated,” perhaps?  No, this was no clever word play, but a simple vocabulary malfunction, which is part of what made the line so memorable.  And sadly, such seems to be the path of Mr. Frum, annihilating himself down the ladder.
    2) Long term, I have faith in the enduring qualities of privacy, modesty, and humility.  The pendulum may be knocked askew from time to time by social and technological change, but social and technological change have little power to rewrite human nature, which tends to find value in such things.  Xenophon and his army were disgusted by the public copulation in one region through which they passed during their long march back from Mesopotamia, but while such practices may crop up from time to time, they are an aberration.  I’ve quoted this impeachment-era essay by Mark Heplrin before, but it’s worth repeating:

    “Principles are eternal. They stem not from our resolution or lack of it, but from elsewhere where, in patient and infinite ranks, they simply wait to be called. They can be read in history. They arise as if of their own accord when in the face of danger natural courage comes into play and honor and defiance are born. Things such as courage and honor are the mortal equivalent of certain laws written throughout the universe. The rules of symmetry and proportion, the laws of physics, the perfection of mathematics, even the principle of uncertainty, are encouragement, entirely independent of the vagaries of human will, that not only natural law but our own best aspirations have a life of their own. They have lasted through far greater abuse than abuses them now. They can be neglected, but they cannot be lost. They can be thrown down, but they cannot be broken.

    Each of them is a different expression of a single quality, from which each arises in its hour of need. Some come to the fore as others stay back, and then, with changing circumstance, those that have gone unnoticed rise to the occasion.”
    Call them principles woven into the fabric of the universe, or call them attributes of God, whose image and likeness we imperfectly reflect, but I believe they will endure.
    3) Sadie, your metaphors continue to be a source of delight.  =)

  • http://www.celiahayes.com Sgt. Mom

    I guess that I am old enough to also remember the same constraints that Sadie does – and the same sense of joy and wonder when I began blogging, and discovered a whole community of people out there; I had friends in cyberspace that I never actually met face to face, I had fans for my writing, and developed connections through them which encouraged me to take the plunge and actually take it to a professional level… but – in all that time, I was also guarded about putting too much personal stuff out there in my blog post: I had a ‘nom du blog’ which I still use, and a pen-name for my books for what I thought were good reasons.
    I carried over this sense of wariness from those periods that I had spent as a DJ at various military radio stations; when you are ‘out there’ as a public persona, you have a million friends and fans (or in my case hundreds!) and then you have about five or six really demented people who for one reason or another hate your guts, based on what they think they know about you as a voice on the radio. So when I started blogging, I was very careful to keep my real name out of it, the real names of my family and my daughter (who was still a serving Marine at that time) and to post nothing but generalities about where I lived, the units I had been assigned to, the real names of people I had known there, nothing about my present friends and my job: nothing there for an unbalanced personality to fix upon. I just didn’t want to deal with the craziness. And the craziness is out there – witness Jeff G’s fresh travails at Protein Wisdom, with She Who Should Not Be Mentioned.

  • suek

    Not disagreeing with anything anybody’s said, but I think there’s an additional factor that the Knepper issue has raised – self-forgiveness.  I first read about the issue on one of the First Things blogs, and it was presented as a question of Frum’s morals/ethics – that is, Knepper’s actions weren’t the deciding factor, but the question of whether it was moral/ethical for his employer to attempt to ferret out whether he was doing some wrong that was wrong.  Makes you wonder about his opinion about the police searching out whether a crime has been committed or not!
    Someone replied as Knepper (obviously, I don’t know if it actually _was_ Knepper) and objected to First Things position that Frum had his own ethics backasswards if his primary concern was the outing of Knepper rather than Knepper’s actions, which Knepper admitted to.  The commenter attacked on the basis that First Things was hypocritical since they still supported the Catholic church (which is an error – the blog is ecumenical) and pretty much then said that if it’s ok for the priests, it’s ok for me.  Which was rather odd since his comments pretty much condemned the priests.
    However…my point is more in line with there being something about the open admission that some people seem to think entitles them to forgiveness or at least tacit approval.  Like a child who you admonish to tell the truth, and who then _does_ tell you the truth, and who then thinks that _since_ they told you the truth, you can’t punish them.  If you impose a penalty for whatever they’ve done wrong, they feel mistreated because they “told the truth”.    I think many people _know_ they’re doing wrong things, but think that if they’re entirely open about it they are then somehow justified…that it’s ok.
    I’m still working on this – I find much about society today that puzzles me.  It seems like it used to be a lot clearer!  I keep thinking we’re going to end up in another dark ages period, and those who have religious beliefs are just going to have to muddle along – somehow.  Then I think about the early Christians and wonder how _did_ they manage to live in that society!  And the Christians in Soviet Russia…how do you raise your children?
    We have been _so_ fortunate to have lived where we have when we have.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The internet is like leaving your house unlocked, with no guard dogs around, as burglars are running rampant in the area.
    It’s an avoidable risk. You may not be able to protect everyone from the burglars, but you can sure motivate them to seek easier prey. That is the consequence of not distributing private details to potential hentai wackjobs on the net. It lets them find easier prey to chew on, thus leaving you alone.
    Children these days seem to go on the net with this fruon fruon naivete about how things really work.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    “I think many people _know_ they’re doing wrong things, but think that if they’re entirely open about it they are then somehow justified…that it’s ok.

    They can always find others on the net that will justify and applaud their actions. Social acceptance is a primary consequence when people seek what they desire with publicity.

  • suek

    >>They can always find others on the net that will justify and applaud their actions.>>
    I agree…but I think it’s more than that.  It’s certainly not limited to the internet – people seem to be willing to talk about _anything_ in public – look at some of the talk TV shows (well, to be honest, I think they’re out there, but I don’t watch them – but in channel surfing, they seem to be there)

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    On tv, there is also the prospect of money. People will do a lot of things if they are paid for it. Human nature at work.


    Sgt. Mom
    The link you provided to Jeff G illustrates that ‘craziness’ is subjective. After reading the slew of emails – insane is the first word that came to mind. Once ‘she’ is certifiably marked insane can the matter be put to rest or in her case-  arrest (maybe) since we’re months away from a SCOTUS decision on the Westboro Baptist Church.
    The use of a cyber name is a lot like an armed gatekeeper and the first line of defense – sorta like MP’s on base or a fancy gated community. Unfortunately, young people have had limited experience with the real world and foolishly believe they are safe in front of their pc’s in some corner of the house. The harsh reality is that they end up with a bad ‘blind date’. No need to detail all the horrific stories we have all heard and read. I was thinking of the old TV show, Let’s Make a Deal. Monty Hall would tempt the participants with money and gifts – solid and visible and yet….always a few bozos that would insist on picking  what’s behind door #3 or such and ending up with several chickens and a few goats. The temptation of the unknown dangles itself and lures the uninitiated.
    Can’t think of a single explorer, who woke up one day and decided that he was going to navigate the ocean in a row boat by himself.