Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why Everyone Deserves Their Privacy -- Even on the Internet

I have not written for a couple of months (too busy writing other people's blogs, seriously!!) but Robin Williams' passing has had me thinking about this issue a lot in the past week.

These people are not related to us, they are not our close personal friends. Of course, as so many people were, I was saddened to hear Mr. Williams had reached the point where suicide was the better option. It is sad for anyone to be in that place.

But as we know and see, when something happens to a celebrity, the Internet lights up, newspapers fills pages with stories no one really needs to know; these people's private lives become a completely open book. I don't think that's fair.
Besides, many people commit suicide daily, people we don't hear about nor about whom we lick our chops over news stories or go trawling for lascivious updates. I know, they are not public figures, they do not have millions of fans, but their end is every bit as tragic.

Facebook is crowded with everyone's "RIP Robin Williams." People are posting links to countless articles all saying the same thing -- he was depressed, he left this world by his own hand -- and there seems to be some kind of horrible fascination with the details, like rubberneckers when passing a bad accident on the highway (another situation I do not understand. Move on people, nothing to see here ...). It was somewhat the same situation when Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose a few months ago; a great (and troubled) talent gone much too soon by our account.

I get that when this happens to a public figure, it is an opportunity, for the greater public good, to create more awareness of the medical or mental health issue that could potentially benefit others who suffer from these conditions (addictions, depression, physical disease). But it all begs the question: When is enough, enough?

I think the 24/7 media coverage of their lives is intrusive and who among us would want that kind of scrutiny?

And then there's this ...
Many media types have already excoriated the Daily News for its usual classless style to run the yellowest of journalism's front page story about Mr. Williams' death (check it out, you'll vomit a little in your mouth).

Bottom line for me: the details of these people's deaths are not our business (excepting criminal investigations or something related to the public good). Nor are the details of their personal lives. I found it repugnant that Robin Williams' wife felt obligated to reveal her husband was diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson's disease ... of what use is this private information to anyone who is not related or affiliated with him in some way (certainly none of us are)? Why is anyone's personal medical diagnosis of concern to the public? Not to mention, media reports (journalism) should be fact-based reports, not histrionic editorials designed to feed the public's frenzy for "dirty details."

What's Up With Those Trolls Anyway? 
The anonymity of the Internet opens the door for terrible behavior by people who clearly have too much idle time and nothing constructive to do. I have written before about some bad behavior on LinkedIn but that's just stupid communication; trolls can be destructive.

Trolls are people who post inflammatory messages, often off topic and disruptive, on blogs, chat rooms and forums, and social media feeds. We've all seen them, the hostile diatribes from people no one knows, the creepy or inappropriate posts that incite upset and anger. Their primary goal is to rile up the readers and although they often succeed, the best way to treat their posts is to delete them, report them, or rise above with humor and good taste (never sink to their swamp-thing level). Trolls want a good argument but deserve a good whack upside the head (to put it politely).

And now the Internet trolls are at it in the Robin Williams issue, aiming their disgusting, disruptive and destructive comments towards Williams' grieving daughter on Twitter. She has deleted her Twitter account because of this activity. There is a good story in the New York Times about this abhorrent behavior that's taken over people's comment boxes, Facebook feeds, Twitter accounts and more.

Problem is -- there are no true rules for Internet etiquette. Grown-up, stable citizens of the world understand that decency, acceptance of different perspectives (delivered respectfully), and true sharing of opinions with productive discourse can be a fruitful way to hold a digital conversation and even build relationships and community around a shared interest or cause. But when trolls enter the picture, lives can be marred and in some cases ruined. Consider the cyber bullying that has led to teenage suicides; it's a different kind of trolling as far as I'm concerned.

Is there a way to monitor and control this? Not yet but I hope there will be soon. In the meantime, I question society's need to creep into celebrities' lives and nosh on the sad details of their personal struggles. It's all sad enough without us strangers clamoring for more. Leave their families and close friends and associates to grieve in private. Nothing to see here.