The Naked Crowd

Let’s talk about privacy in the hyper-digital age

Last week, The New York Times’s not-quite forgotten lady lobbyist story resurfaced in the news when the paper issued a brief, not-quite apology after reaching a settlement in the defamation suit brought by Vicki Iseman, the lobbyist in question.

In the follow-up statement from Iseman’s lawyers, and in the note from executive editor Bill Keller, both sides emphasized that the central question of the now-settled suit was whether or not Iseman should have been considered a public figure by the Times: Lawyers: No; Times: Yes.

We want to take the conversation one step further. Given the proliferation of personal blogs, reality TV, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, and myriad other social networks and personal technologies, as well as the ease of electronic access to public-records databases, is it time to rethink the concept of a public figure? In the realities of the digital age, is anyone still considered a private figure? At what point do claims of being a private individual no longer ring true?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.