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The Erosion of Privacy: When the Lines of Privacy Are Blurred, It’s All-Too-Common to Cross the Line

Back in 1968, Andy Warhol suggested that “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”  Today, his prophesy would seem to be coming true.  But fame and privacy are inversely correlated: the more of one, the less of the other.

From social networking to reality TV, we’re a society where almost everybody is “famous” by openly sharing what was once closely guarded.  Television cameras record every move of the countless pseudo-celebrities created by the media – with more teenagers today knowing about the everyday lives of Snooki and “The Situation” than they should.  And where reality television leaves off, the Internet takes over – with sites like TMZ and Gawker not only invading the privacy of celebrities on a regular basis, but sending the message to today’s teenagers that nothing is really private anymore.  In fact, there are further indications that celebrity privacy invasion may be reaching a new low — with the recent news about a new start-up called JustSpotted, which claims it will have the ability to map out where celebrities are in real-time and give reports about their whereabouts.

While it’s not only teenagers and young adults who are guilty of avidly following the lives of reality television stars and who spend hours sharing every detail of their own lives on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, it’s this younger age group that may have the most to lose from the relinquishment of privacy that is now a part of their everyday existence.   To these impressionable young adults — growing up in a world where video cameras,  webcams and cell phone-snapped photos are everywhere and where nothing appears to be off-limits – the lines between what is private and what is not may often be blurred.  The recent case of the Rutgers University student whose privacy was invaded by a fellow classmate who filmed him during a sexual encounter and posted it on the Internet – with tragic results – horrifies us all.  But in a society where unseen surveillance cameras are everywhere and the very concept of privacy has lost its meaning among many young adults who post virtually everything online, this may not be the last time we see a situation like this.

When nothing appears to be private, it’s easy to see how people, especially impressionable teenagers and young adults, can lose respect and understanding for the very concept of privacy.   In the Rutgers case and other high-profile cases recently in the news, the results of privacy invasions were tragic; in the many other privacy invasion cases across the country that may have gone unreported, may the results have also been devastating to some degree?  Unfortunately, unless we begin to take a closer look at how we value privacy, and what should remain private, this “desensitization” to the loss of privacy will only continue … and, most probably, get worse.

As technology continues to give us new tools to communicate and share information – and as, undoubtedly, new “reality television” shows and the Internet will allow us to continue to get a “view” into the personal lives of others, it’s time to reconsider and re-affirm the role that privacy should play in our society.  When the lines of privacy are less blurred in the media, perhaps fewer people will cross the line when it comes to invading the privacy of others…which would be a welcome change in a world where more and more people are looking to gain their 15 minutes of fame – at the cost of sacrificing their own privacy, or the privacy of others.

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