Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

The Pitfalls of Lacking A Clear Private and Public Divide

Between the public and private realms exists a thin line.  Despite this thin and unclear line, people claim more institutional transparency and freedom while demanding their right to privacy so long as this right to privacy does not interfere with their free use of en vogue social media or access to, and even participation in, reality television.

We often talk about the private and public divide in terms of the legal challenge it presents, but this tension presents other challenges as well.  The impact of the lack of balance between the right to information and the right to privacy creates a big challenge to society because it affects the manner people communicate with one another and how culture develops in part from this manner of communication.  On the one hand, we find politicians and celebrities subjected to the gaze of others through the media.  These individuals are subject to harassment even in the supposed privacy of their own home.  On the other hand, an increasing number of people shamelessly seek to exhibit their private lives through the media much to the delight of voyeuristic and scandal-loving mass audiences.

In the not distant past, the eradication between the private and public divide was reserved for celebrities and government leaders, but today everyone is exposed to a decreasing right to privacy thanks to social media where it is increasingly difficult to preserve one’s privacy.  Even those who do not subscribe to Facebook and Twitter find themselves unwillingly and often unknowingly implicated through these mediums via photos of friends, for example.  Many people are astonished by the uncontrolled spread of personal data and inappropriate photos posted on Facebook and the tweeting of controversial opinions with the goal of expanding their list of followers, yet social media gains more subscribers on a daily basis.  The ability for common people to find fame and popularity through YouTube and participation in reality television also further blurs the private and public divide though the creation of pseudo-celebrities.  In short, societal expectations have changed from valuing privacy to valuing uninterrupted access to information.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the increasingly shrinking private realm is that while the masses seek to satisfy their appetite for more information and insight into the private lives of others so do our governments.  After all, George Orwell said in his book 1984 that everyone will be spied on by Big Brother.  A Big Brother society is one pitfall of this reality.  The reaction to such a Big Brother reality is another pitfall, which leads to civil unrest.  This is  currently seen in Argentina, the European Union, and the United States and has the potential of a revolution by the citizens.  Either of these pitfalls present challenges to peace.

This new era is characterized by velocity, variety, entertainment and technology with too much information.  Maybe we have to accept with resignation that privacy is a thing of the past.  After all, technology and social media is not going anywhere and, indeed, there are positive aspects of social media.  Maybe we should begin to demand truthful information.  Maybe we should demand that the government understand that while people may not know or care about the diminishing public and private divide it is the responsibility of the government to not only understand this divide but also to vigorously enforce the divide thereby respecting the right of privacy of the citizens.

Carolina Zocca, Argentina
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2013 Session


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