Guard against self-inflicted publicity

When I was old enough to begin regularly composing letters and notes to girlfriends and others, my father told me that I should never put anything in writing that I would be embarrassed to see on the front page of a family newspaper.

WASHINGTON — When I was old enough to begin regularly composing letters and notes to girlfriends and others, my father told me that I should never put anything in writing that I would be embarrassed to see on the front page of a family newspaper. Over the decades I have repeated that sage advice to my own children and to dozens of other young men and women in classrooms from high school to college.

The “old man’s” warning has never been more important than in this age of Internet madness – which he never would have understood — where, to cite the late Art Linkletter, people say the “darnedest things” about themselves and others with appalling regularity and frequently dire consequences. The insecurity of this method of advanced communication compares with posting a note on the front door detailing your valuables and where you keep them. Yet millions of Americans can’t seem to resist doing it.

E-mail communication between desks that are only a few feet apart in a newsroom or office has become a regular source of tragedy for those too lazy to get up and convey their message orally. I personally know of three editors whose affairs came to light when the words of passion between him and his fellow worker were must reading for the rest of the titillated staff. But, even more seriously, messages between editors and reporters that might include words later construed as evidence of malice against a subject of an investigation have more than once resulted in disastrous consequences for a publication trying to defend itself against libel.

In my estimation the compulsive need to expose one’s most intimate and private matters to a potentially infinite number of others is the height of exhibitionism. If not that, it certainly has become social suicide for people who have found their lives invaded just by signing up for the magic of online service. Abuse has been so blatant it has promoted an outcry from thousands of account holders, Congress and advocacy groups. One wag suggested that for those who ignore all the warnings – and millions do – there should be a new service called YouBoob.

A recent case reported that a giant retailer being sued by the family of two maintenance workers burned in an explosion had used a subpoena to gain access to more than two years of information in the social networking accounts of the wife of one of the victims, none of which had anything to do with the suit. It was one of a number of examples that have brought congressional attention to the lack of personal control of these accounts in providers such as Facebook.

Recently Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote Facebook and Google demanding that they cooperate with congressional investigators looking into privacy matters and Sen. Charles Schumer, D. N.Y., has called on the Federal Trade Commission to establish guidelines for the use of private information and to prohibit access without permission of the account holder, according to press reports.

All this was highly predictable in an age when in reality few things are private and the electronic mania that facilitates and feeds easy movement of the most personal information.

Dan Thomasson writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

Alberta recorded a single-day record of over 57,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta hits daily record of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Central zone has administered 111,735 doses of the COVID-19

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Canada's chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Tam warns that full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Canada’s chief public health officer reminded Canadians on Saturday that even those… Continue reading

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour conducts drills during NHL hockey training camp in Morrisville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
NHL relaxing virus protocols for vaccinated playoff teams

The NHL is relaxing virus protocols for teams that reach a threshold… Continue reading

Canada skip Kerri Einarson directs her teammates against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Einarson eliminated at curling worlds after 8-3 loss to Sweden’s Hasselborg

CALGARY — Canada’s Kerri Einarson was eliminated at the world women’s curling… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

Most Read