Friday, May 15, 2009

Working out the kinks in digital rights and expectations

All politics is local. All politics is global.

The former has always been true, while the latter has only really come into its own truth with the advent of the internet and our ever-evolving digital age. For instance, in the past week, comments made by former Madison alder Brenda Konkel on her blog were used, out of context and without attribution, by an online newspaper. Said alder then commented on the article via her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and those words were picked up by a blog/online magazine and posted as a screen shot (still following me?).

Charges of impropriety were leveled at pretty much everyone involved for a whole variety of issues, but as I said in my piece on Dane101 yesterday, I think the really interesting issue at hand here is that of our increasingly online lives. How much online exposure is too much? What rights do we maintain in the binary world? What's the reasonable expectation of privacy for individuals using the web? For public officials?

Happily, a fairly in-depth and civil discussion of these issues was the main result of the posts, and many valid critiques and theories have been posited.

I maintain that, while it was improper that the first version of the screen shot included a comment from an unrelated person (it has since been removed), the use of the quote was fair. Konkel made the comment both on Facebook--which admittedly has a few more privacy filters--and on Twitter, which is quite public. Konkel herself has offered some thoughtful responses to this storm in a bottle:
What was cross-posted on Facebook - the same content - was also not that big of a deal to be used publicly, especially because it was political content. I think what surprised me was seeing my subsequent comment posted. Again, probably splitting hairs, but I guess I'll be more judicious in my comments in the future. If I wanted my comments to be more public, I could have just twittered it. Like I said, my twitter has more public comments, on my facebook, you'll see that I painted my toenails purple. I use them differently. Perhaps it was a distinction in my own head, but I thought it was more widely understood. Otherwise, I'm surprised by what some public figures (members of the media included) post on facebook and I'd hate to see all of that fair game for the press.
As you can see, it's a multi-layered debate, but an important one for everyone to be having as more and more news is gotten and purveyed online, and more of us are making our lives open to total strangers through the internet. Because we all need to realize that, if we put it online, someone is going to see it. We need to decide what that means, and how it can or can't be legally used.

I don't pretend to have definitive answers to all of these questions, but I'm glad we're at least really starting to discuss them. I wish the major news organizations would do more of the same, frankly. It behooves us all to figure these things out before bigger, potentially more damaging instances of personal data mining occur in the press.

Meanwhile, there's still that pesky issue of racism brought up by the original posts and articles. Over on the far more inconsistent side of things, Dave Blaska accuses Konkel of resorting to McCarthy-like tactics in her comments about Alder Pham-Remmele that helped kick off this whole thing:
...Brenda Konkel has turned the racism card face up, as the Left is wont to do so promiscuously.
Yes, because "The Right" is so free from prejudice of any kind. The unfortunate thing is that, in the middle of Blaska's name calling, self-aggrandizing screed, there are actually a few decent points to be had--namely, that we all need to do a better job of figuring out when we're just asking people to be more responsible for themselves and their children, and when we're taking that to a classist, racist level by including stereotypes and derogatory sentiments.

Take the comments Pham-Remmele made that are at the center of this debate. Back in October of '07, the Common Council was discussing redevelopment in the Allied Drive neighborhood when, as the Capital Times then reported,
Jaws dropped...As a number of residents of the neighborhood looked on and city cable Channel 12's cameras rolled, Pham-Remmele said that, based on her 30 years' experience as a teacher in the Madison school district, some Allied Drive families made expensive hair braiding a higher priority than their children's lunches.
It's one of those cringe-worthy statements that may have a kernel of truth at its core, but is expressed in such a crass manner that any chance for reasoned, constructive dialogue thereafter goes understandably out the window.

I suspect that the issue with Pham-Remmele has more to do with her inability to express herself properly rather than serious racism. She is often accused of making rambling, incoherent statements at council meetings, and that, combined with her no-nonsense approach to public service, is a recipe for discord.

We owe it to ourselves to have serious discussions about neighborhood safety and quality of life, as well as finding a balance between personal responsibility and community assistance. And yes, racism still exists in this Obama era, whether the Dave Blaska's of the world would like to admit it or not. We've all got our little prejudices, our ignorance of certain people or cultures, our preconceived notions that need straightening out. And so it's good that there are forceful voices out there, like Konkel and like Pham-Remmele, to keep us on our toes. It's up to the rest of us, then, to make sure those forceful voices are countered, when necessary, by equally honest but perhaps more thoughtful and nuanced discussion.

Name calling or coddling aren't going to get any of us anywhere good.

1 comment:

George H. said...

There is a parallel discussion to this, going on in the sports media and readers here in Madison, about the use of Facebook comments by a Madison high school basketball player who has said he will play basketball for the UW-Madison. The lines are even more blurred there. An interesting thread on this can be found at in the forum section.

The Lost Albatross