Online diaries: Reflections on trust, privacy, and exhibitionism [Book Review]

Ethics and Information Technology 10 (1):57-69 (2008)
Abstract
Trust between transaction partners in cyberspace has come to be considered a distinct possibility. In this article the focus is on the conditions for its creation by way of assuming, not inferring trust. After a survey of its development over the years (in the writings of authors like Luhmann, Baier, Gambetta, and Pettit), this mechanism of trust is explored in a study of personal journal blogs. After a brief presentation of some technicalities of blogging and authors’ motives for writing their diaries, I try to answer the question, ‘Why do the overwhelming majority of web diarists dare to expose the intimate details of their lives to the world at large?’ It is argued that the mechanism of assuming trust is at play: authors simply assume that future visitors to their blog will be sympathetic readers, worthy of their intimacies. This assumption then may create a self-fulfilling cycle of mutual admiration. Thereupon, this phenomenon of blogging about one’s intimacies is linked to Calvert’s theory of ‘mediated voyeurism’ and Mathiesen’s notion of ‘synopticism’. It is to be interpreted as a form of ‘empowering exhibitionism’ that reaffirms subjectivity. Various types of ‘synopticon’ are distinguished, each drawing the line between public and private differently. In the most ‘radical’ synopticon blogging proceeds in total transparency and the concept of privacy is declared obsolete; the societal gaze of surveillance is proudly returned and nullified. Finally it is shown that, in practice, these conceptions of blogging are put to a severe test, while authors often have to cope with known people from ‘real life’ complaining, and with ‘trolling’ strangers.
Keywords blogs  diaries  exhibitionism  panopticism  privacy  surveillance  synopticism  trust  voyeurism
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