Public and private

Views of publicness from today:

* Anderson Cooper comes out of the closet and Emma Keller argues that he was hounded out while Gawker’s Brian Moylan brags about having been a hound.

They’re each right. I say in Public Parts that I don’t believe anyone should be forced out of a closet of his or her own making; that is the essence of privacy: choice. But I’ll also argue that one has the responsibility to ask whether one’s own knowledge, made public, could help others. That is the ethic of publicness, the ethic of sharing. And that, in the end, is what Cooper decided, eloquently arguing:

I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

Even as he scolded Anderson for not being visible enough on a holiday Monday off air, Gawker founder Nick Denton celebrated this much: “It’s awesome that the calculation has changed this much: that it’s now more embarrassing to remain in the closet than it is to come out.”

* At the same time, a New York judge ordered Twitter to hand over the tweets of an #OccupyWallStreet protestor because they were already public: “The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.”

The man has a point: what’s public is public and belongs to the public.

The weakness in his argument is the relative efficiency of the new medium. If this same protestor had muttered words in a crowd on the bridge and no on recalled his exact — though public — words, then he’d be off. That he muttered them on a digital platform with a magnetic memory changes the nature and impact of publicness.

The bottom line, to me, is that these two men contributed to the public by being public, aiding causes that matter to society, and we need norms and laws that do not penalize them for their decisions to be public. There should be nothing wrong with a gay man saying he is gay for anyone to hear. There should be nothing wrong or dangerous for a citizen expressing an opinion about our government. The issue is not privacy. The issue how much we value and thus protect publicness.

That is why I wrote Public Parts.

: LATER: On the Google+ discussion about this post, a commenter points to the Twitter case’s overreach in also asking for things that are not public, including direct messages, location, and more. The problem is that our electronic communications do not have the same protection that our letters do. That must be fixed.