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The Ugly Persistence of Internet Celebrity

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5 Responses

  1. Regarding “Ms. Stokke’s struggles exemplify the limitations of privacy tort law in the digital age.”

    I’m not seeing it in this case. It seems to me that she has a classic “paparazzi” problem. Granted, there’s more people who have this problem nowadays. But if she should have been so unlucky to become one of the tabloid favorites in the pre-digital age, what could privacy tort law have done?

  2. Orin Kerr says:

    Danielle,

    This is the first I have heard of Stokke, but off the top of my head, I’m not sure I follow why this raises issues that relate to Dan’s book.

  3. Logan says:

    To me this just demonstrates the downside to one of the greatest aspects of the internet, its openness.

  4. Thanks for your comments and questions, Seth and Orin. Let me try to flesh out my thinking a bit. When Warren and Brandeis wrote The Right to Privacy in 1890, they responded to their day’s paparazzi–photographers armed with snap cameras selling pictures to the penny press. Their right to privacy sought to protect a person’s inviolate personality and the emotional suffering accompanying the unwanted, overexposure of individuals. With the Privacy article and the Second Restatement of Torts, Prosser locked down tort privacy to four torts targeted at specific activities and particular harms. In his view, the four torts had nothing in common. This resulted in narrowing the four torts and in disconnecting them from the values of autonomy and dignity that underlie Warren and Brandeis’s inviolate personality. (My Mainstreaming Privacy Torts piece, coming out in California Law Review next month, covers how tort privacy has been locked down and narrowed.)

    While digital technologies exacerbate the sorts of harms that Warren and Brandeis contemplated, tort privacy, in its current form and interpretation, cannot respond to them. Let’s consider Ms. Stokke’s harm. Sites like Busted Campus urge anyone who sees Ms. Stokke to take and send the site the pictures of her. Those sites remain online, searchable, persistent, and available to far more people than the penny press or bathroom wall could reach. Stokke’s ability to experience anonymity in public is diminished. Can she walk around her dorm in a robe, attend a party, or speak in class without fear of a cell phone camera? This exacerbates concerns about persistent surveillance and the privacy harms it brings. It also guarantees that images of Ms. Stokke will be taken out of context. As Dan writes about in Future of Reputation, this sort of privacy problem involves the distortion of people’s view of individuals. Taken out of context, the pictures of Ms. Stokke and the commentary present a distorted view of Ms. Stokke just as the video did for the Star Wars Kid and the Numa Numa guy. Moreover, countless individuals continue to contact her on her phone, email, the street. Taken alone, the calls would not amount to intrusion on seclusion yet together they amount to the kind of disturbances recognized as implicating tort privacy when committed by a single individual. Ms. Stokke is no Lindsey Lohan–she was a high school athlete readying herself for college when her picture began to light up the Internet. Now, four years later, sites across the net encourage her surveillance. These sorts of concerns animated my thinking in writing the post, and they are the sorts of concerns that Solove writes about in FOR.

  5. Orin Kerr says:

    Thanks, Danielle. It seems to me that there are two issues: (1) How the Internet can make someone famous, which can be annoying to the famous person for a range of reasons if they would rather not be famous, and (2) How the Internet can misrepresent people, which presents a distorted sense of them that sticks with them. This seems like a case of (1) rather than (2).