Personal isn’t always private

I was typing in various combinations of keywords into Google, trying to find a web page that I hadn’t visited in a long time. The summary of one of the pages it served up in answer to one search attempt mentioned the pseudonym of a fannish acquaintance I hadn’t talked to in a long time. It was a blog, with a date of just a year ago. So even though it wasn’t what I was searching for, I clicked on the link out of curiosity to find out what had happened to the acquaintance.

As I read the blog entry, I realized the author was another fan I hadn’t seen in many years. One who I would just as soon never have contact with again, since he was a troublemaker who had caused several people I care about a lot of grief. But, like a collision that you cannot turn away from, I had to read on. The post was a rant about a bunch of people (including the person whose name had attracted me to the link) who, years ago, had “violated his privacy” by reading his public posts on LiveJournal. These “despicable stalkers” even had the temerity to repeat some of the nasty, slanderous* things he had said about some other people.

Reading a publicly available blog, particularly on a service such as LiveJournal, is hardly invading your privacy. Especially not when, as this guy used to do, you have advertised said blog far and wide. Neither is it stalking to read said blog. When you say nasty things about people in public, there can be consequences. It is not unreasonable to expect that the people you have said nasty things about, as well as their friends, will take exception to your words.

Similarly, if you donate money to an initiative or referendum that aims to restrict someone’s legal rights, or strip those legal rights away, that is not a private act. That’s a public act. You are attempting to change the law to conform with your personal opinions. You’re trying to force people to live the way you think they ought. Thinking that they ought to live a particular way is a private opinion, so long as you just think it. But once you cross the line to signing petitions and donating money to get the law passed, you have crossed the line into public action.

People who would be harmed by that law are perfectly within their rights to boycott your business, to suggest to their friends that they boycott your business, or to suggest to strangers that they boycott your business. They are perfectly within their rights to tell you that they disagree with you. They are perfectly within their rights to refer to your opinions as bigoted or hateful.

It’s not right to threaten you, vandalize your property, physically harm you, or call you nasty names.

Pointing out that your arguments are illogical, or that statements you have made are untrue (even to call them lies) is not calling you a nasty name. Calling you a liar edges over the line, but pointing out that your statements are false does not.

Opinions are personal. Expressing them in a conversation with a friend in a location and under a context in which you can expect them to exercise their discretion is mostly private. Putting the opinion on a bumper sticker is not private. Paying for political ads that urge other people to act on your opinion is not private. Paying to enact laws that force your opinion on other people is not private.

* I am well aware of the legal distinction between slander (which in court refers only to spoken assaults on another’s character), and libel (which in court refers to printed or published assaults). However, slander also refers to any false, abusive, or malicious attack on another’s character, while libel generally has a narrower and more restrictive definition. As an adjective, slanderous, being less specific is clearly applicable as a means to characterize the nature of statements, no matter how they are delivered.

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