Public To Private, Private To Public

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Inspired by this comedian getting bent out of shape when someone wrote a blog entry about his rape jokes, here’s my personal rules about public spaces:
Anything you broadcast to a public space can be responded to in a public space.
If you’re speaking in an area where strangers can drop in, and are speaking loudly enough to be heard, then you’re speaking in a public place.  This can be getting on stage for a comedy showing, or posting a blog on the Internet, or a post on Facebook if you post it to all comers.  Hell, if you refuse to shut up at the coffee shop, blathering loud enough that other people have to shut you out, then that’s a public space.
If you’ve chosen to talk in a public space, I am not obligated to take you aside to discuss the problems I have with what you just said one-on-one.
It’s kinder if I do, and I’ll frequently do so for friends.  But if you step on a platform to broadcast your thoughts to the world for public consumption, my reaction may well be to broadcast my thoughts on your thoughts over here.  And if you’ve said something particularly dim or ill-informed in a public space, I may well choose to point at you as an example of What Not To Do.
That’s not cowardly.  You’ve chosen to make a public spectacle of your thoughts, and part of the cost of “speaking to a larger audience” is “inspiring wider conversations.”  You don’t get to control the message when you’ve decided to hand it wholesale to everyone within ear’s reach.  As such, not everything said about you is guaranteed to be kind – which is why you should consider very carefully before speaking to crowds of large people.
And for God’s sake, if you’re going to be “edgy” and go for the big reaction, then shut the hell up when it turns out the big reaction you were purposely seeking wasn’t the one you received.  You took a chance.  You knew it could blow up in your face.  Don’t play the victim.
Anything you discuss in a private space should, generally, remain private.
On the other hand, if you’re talking quietly to some buddies at a coffee shop, or making friends-locked posts, or just shooting the shit among friends, then whatever you say should generally be kept in private.  People need private space.  It’s where they can short-hand conversations for comfort, or say stupid things and get feedback safely, or even try out potentially thoughts to see what their friends think.
You need that space.  God knows we’d all look like idiots if our every word was broadcast.  So you should respect that privacy.
I’ve accidentally blogged some dumb things my friends said and used them as examples of wider problems, and it’s invariably cost me the friendship… which, I’m shamed to say, was the correct move on their part.  They were talking to me, in a protected space, and I hauled them out on stage to have their thoughts dissected.  They did not ask for this, and it was rude of me to do so.  If someone says something sketchy to me in a private space, I should call them on their bullshit in an equally private space – which is to say, either debating their idiotic behavior in front in the same friends’ group they just spoke in front of, or tugging them aside for a private chat.
I’ve been hung on the Internet for my failures.  That was painful, but at least it was my own choice.  If a so-called “friend” of mine had dragged my private thoughts out in public and I’d been pilloried there, it would have been awful.
Which is why I feel bad when I’ve blown it.  People with stupid opinions are, well, stupid…. But “stupid” is not a static description.  Quite often the way people get rid of their stupid opinions is by having them rebutted in private, not broadcast to the world to be the Punching Bag of the Day.
But there are exceptions.
Sometimes, people count on this privacy-to-public buffer to get away with ridiculous stuff.  Sexual harassment’s a classic case: a professor slobbers all over his students in private, counting on the fact that none of them will go public.  Or someone’s such an active racist in private spaces that you have to say to the world that you do not want to deal with this dork any longer.
Sometimes, you have to violate the privacy barrier.  But this should be done cautiously.  It’s a slam-dunk if some professor pawed you in private, but what about a friend who said something stupid?  You might well be misrepresenting what they said, or misunderstanding.  I’m not saying not to go public, but I am popping up the little “This could be harming someone who you misunderstood – proceed? Y/N.”
If you decide that someone’s become bad enough that they’re worth hauling into the public eye, then pull that trigger.  But don’t deny that it’s a gun you’re firing at them, an effort you’re making to try to harm them with the weight of public opinion enough that they’ll feel shamed and/or restricted into stopping their actions.
Sometimes it’s the right thing to pull the trigger.  Just do it responsibly, is all I’m saying.



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