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The Future of Reputation. Published in 2007. Daniel J. Solove. Associate professor at George Washington University Law School Internationally known expert in privacy law Blogs at The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age.

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The future of reputation

The Future of Reputation

Published in 2007

Daniel j solove
Daniel J. Solove

  • Associate professor at George Washington University Law School

  • Internationally known expert in privacy law

  • Blogs at

  • The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age

Part 1 rumor and reputation in a digital world
Part 1: Rumor and Reputation in a Digital World

  • Dog Poop Girl – Idea for the book

    • Other passengers asked her to clean it up, but she told them to mind their own business.

    • Someone took photos, posted them on a blog.

    • She dropped out of university.

    • In the past this story would have been forgotten, but with the Internet it will live on forever.


  • There are blogs about virtually any topic under the sun: dogs and poop happen to be very popular

    • Doggie News

    • Blogdogs

    • Poop Report

  • Blogs are more interactive than mainstream media.

  • Journalists or Diarists?

Social network websites
Social Network Websites

  • Six degrees of separation

    • “Everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on the planet.” (play by John Guare, 1990)

  • Close friends vs acquaintances

    • Become binary relations.


  • Shaped by others – how they perceive us

  • How permanence has changed

    • In the past, oral gossip could tarnish a reputation, but it would fade from memories over time. People could move elsewhere and start anew.

    • Printed material could still be forgotten as most publications eventually get buried away in libraries, making it hard to retrieve.

    • The Internet makes gossip a permanent reputational stain, one that never fades. It is available around the world, and with Google it can easily be found in less than a second.

  • Should we be able to control our reputations?

Dubious data
Dubious Data

  • Tommy Hilfiger

    • “If I had known that African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice.”

  • Kobe Bryant

    • Katie was inaccurately named as the rape victim on a website – quickly spread to many websites.

    • Manipulated pictures

The sobering consequences
The Sobering Consequences

  • Facebook = job killer

    • You may not be told why you don’t get a job, because they may have based their decision on your Facebook profile.

  • Dooced: losing job because of your online postings (e.g. Facebook, blog, etc.)

Numa numa dance 2004
Numa Numa Dance (2004)

  • 19-year-old Gary posted the video of himself online.

  • He appeared on Good Morning America, NBC’s Tonight Show, and CNN.

  • Then he decided that he hated the spotlight, but there’s no going back.

  • He has since resurfaced with a new music video, this time professionally produced.

  • Gary has embraced his Internet fame.

Star wars kid 2002
Star Wars Kid (2002)

  • 15-year-old Ghyslain from Quebec

  • Filmed himself in his high school with a golf ball retriever as a light saber.

  • He didn’t intend for anyone to see the video, but a student discovered it a few months later and posted it on the Internet.

  • Many websites posted edited versions of the video.

Star wars kid cont d
Star Wars Kid (cont’d)

  • Some comments that remain online:

    • “I don’t know which one is funnier, raw or remixed…”

    • “How come this kid is still fat?”

    • “It’s like a bad train wreck… you don’t want to look at it, but you just can’t stop yourself.”

  • Ghyslain transferred to another school, and eventually dropped out. He then had to seek psychiatric care.

  • His family sued the students who placed the video online and the case settled out of court.

Star wars kid cont d1
Star Wars Kid (cont’d)

  • According to estimates, the video has become the most watched video on the Internet, having been viewed hundreds of millions of times.

  • In 2005 there was an online petition to persuade George Lucas to include the Star Wars Kid in Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

  • The petition received more than 146,000 signatures, but it was unsuccessful.

  • “Whether you like it or not, whether you intend it or not, the Internet can make you an instant celebrity. You could be the next Star Wars Kid.”


  • Jessica Cutler, 25-year-old staff assistant a US senator

  • “… working for a senator looks good on my resume. And these marble hallways are such great places for meeting boys and showing off my outfits.”

  • She began having an affair with an attorney employed by the senator; blogging about the entire thing.

Washingtonienne cont d
Washingtonienne (cont’d)

  • When Wonkette (Ana Marie Cox), a popular blog, linked to the Washingtonienne, the blog went primetime.

  • Fired for detailing her active sexual life in her blog.


  • Social epidemics: the spread of ideas and information resembles the spread of epidemics of diseases – change doesn’t occur gradually but instead arrives at one dramatic moment (the tipping point)

  • 2/3 of all conversations involve gossip

  • Hiding information – defects?


  • 20-year-old student

  • Set up a Web cam in her dorm room to broadcast an ongoing video of her life over the Internet.

  • Most of the time it captured mundane things.

  • She moved JenniCam to her home when she graduated, and kept it going for 7 years.


  • “Laura is a Plagiarist”

    • Hired someone to write paper for her, but he filled it with errors and blogged about his plan to get her caught.

  • Cell Phone Thief

    • Photos posted on the Sprint website from a stolen cell phone.

    • Owner sent text message to his phone, the thief replied with his full name.

    • Thief’s full address appeared online, with the photos and tons of nasty comments. When the cell phone owner found out the thief was only 16 he wanted to take it all back. But it was too late.

Shaming cont d
Shaming (cont’d)

  • SHHH Cards

  • Tipping

    • Why do we tip waitresses we will never see again?

    • BitterWaitress

      • “Shitty Tipper Database”

  • Holla Back NYC

  • Don’t Date Him Girl

Part 2 privacy free speech and the law
Part 2: Privacy, Free Speech, and the Law

  • “You already have zero privacy. Get over it.”

  • Newspapers → telephone → camera

  • “The Right to Privacy”

Legal approaches
Legal Approaches

  • Libertarian approach

    • The flow of information should remain free.

    • Does little to protect privacy.

  • Authoritarian approach

    • Employ strict controls over the spread of information.

    • Often end up being more symbolic than effective.

  • Middle ground approach

    • Moderate role for the law to help shape the norms that govern the circulation of information.

    • Should ensure that people better understand the dramatic difference between gossip offline and online.

Privacy defamation and reputation
Privacy, Defamation, and Reputation

  • In the past, duel to defend honour

  • Law of defamation

    • Libel (written) and slander (spoken)

    • Limited in order to protect free speech

  • Law of privacy

    • (i) intrusion upon seclusion

    • (ii) public disclosure of private facts

    • (iii) false light

    • (iv) appropriation

  • Lawsuits make the privacy issue more public

    • In Europe, use fake names to correct this

Freedom of speech
Freedom of Speech

  • Why is free speech important?

    • Individual autonomy

    • Democracy

    • Marketplace of ideas

  • Newsworthiness Test

    • This limitation is included in the tort to protect free speech.

    • Information is of public concern when the public has an interest in learning about it.

  • Intertwined lives


  • Article III Groupie

    • Young law school graduate

    • Underneath Their Robes

  • Accountability

    • People are more inappropriate when they can be anonymous.

    • Wikipedia

Who should be responsible
Who Should Be Responsible?

  • Ken Zeran (AOL)

    • T-shirts of the Oklahoma City bombing, 1995

    • Someone listed his name and phone number as the contact. He received many irate calls.

  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA)

    • No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.


  • Aleksey

    • 23-year-old student at Yale

    • Applied for a job with UBS; submitted an 11-page résumé and a 7-minute video of himself.

    • UBS did not hire him and the video was forwarded around Wall Street, and soon wound up on YouTube.

    • Should his application have been private?


  • (Numa Numa Gary’s new video)

  • (Star Wars Kid videos)