The American Caliban (substitute) wrote,
The American Caliban

What happened this week; an open letter.

Five days ago, I saw something on the Internet that bothered me. A local photographer was posting surreptitiously taken pictures of girls in bathing suits from the beach, and a lot of them looked underage to me. It is my understanding that this is a violation of law; in fact, I had seen people arrested for it, as had friends of mine.

I discussed this with friends in a private forum, and following that discussion I emailed the police department of that city. I told them that I had no idea if any crime had been committed, but that it looked bad to me, and that they should be aware that this was going on. They did not respond. I have no idea if they even read their email, or whether it works; their site is a mess.

One person in the discussion mentioned above disagreed with me. He felt strongly that no crime had been committed, that I should not contact the police, and that the most I should do is ask his web host not to host the photos if I found them offensive. He also revealed that he knew the photographer personally. It was his opinion that I was going too far by talking to the police, and that the photographer was likely to be poorly treated by the police and an injustice caused. I disagreed, and we had a heated argument about the principles involved. Several other people also disagreed with him.

Yesterday I and the others in that conversation received hate mail from the photographer's wife. My friend had decided that the proper thing to do was to forward the entire private conversation to the photographer and an unknown number of other people, without notifying me or any of the others in the conversation.

This meant that someone whom I had accused of a crime had been given my identity and easy means of locating me both online and in person. It also meant that several friends of mine had also been given the same treatment, solely because they agreed with me, when they had not contacted the police or done anything else other than converse.

Demanding an explanation I received the following combination of insults and explanations: that I was a coward; that I had practiced innuendo; that I was "passive-aggressive" (does anyone actually look that up?); that I should have confronted the photographer myself; that I am not a "real man"; that nothing on LJ is really private so it was okay for him to give that information to anyone; and a series of inaccurate comments about "the law". In this strange double-vision world, I am both a coward for "hiding behind a locked entry" and a fool for supposing that anything was private, and he is the Angel of Justice who has been given the task of educating me about my true place by surreptitiously handing over the information and watching the fun, without any risk to himself. A fine position to be in, safe and enjoyable!

So according to his principles, if I suspect someone of a crime my duty is to confront him personally, perhaps slapping him in the face with my glove in the manner of a 19th century novel, and demand satisfaction, sir! If I instead discuss the problem with my friends in private and then notify the police, it's the duty of an honorable man to take this private communication and give it to the injured party, so that he can get satisfaction on his own by whatever means he feels necessary, without warning and in secret.

If my friend with the deep sense of honor had just wished to protect the photographer from trouble, there was no need to identify anyone. The solution for someone who disapproved of my tip to the police would be to tip Mr. Photographer too. That would be his own legal problem, and he could take responsibility for it, in the manner of a "real man".

But that's not what he wanted. He wanted to hurt me as badly as possible, and hurt everyone else who had disagreed with him. So he exposed us all to the unknown risk of retribution from someone who had been accused of a crime.

If a real man confronts, and discusses, and doesn't hide, does a real man silently betray his friend behind his back? Where was his big confrontation with me, where he said "Sir I have no choice but to inform the photographer of your behavior"? Apparently my duty to confront Mr. Photographer is absolute, but your duty to confront me is totally absent. Suddenly the 19th century novel evaporates and we have a child passing notes in class because someone tattled to the teacher and he wants a beat down at the bike racks after school. Right now, man!

You can slice it and spin it any way you want, feedle, but you deliberately violated a confidence out of spite and anger. You did it to hurt, and not to fix anything or make anything better for anyone. And you did it because you have a double standard between your friend who likes to take pictures of high school girls on the beach and your friend of a friend who disapproves, and because you were upset about an Internet argument. Class act.

You got what you wanted; a lot of people are afraid, miserable, and very very angry. Hurt: achieved. I have no idea how unbalanced your photographer friend is. Do you absolutely guarantee that Mr. and Mrs. Camera don't go beyond hatemail, or can you even guarantee such a thing? Should I prepare for property vandalism, electronic attacks, a screwdriver in my back? Should everyone else on that list do so also? What if they'd decided instead of sending hate mail to just burn my house down? That would be awfully disappointing, although of course there's still no risk to you so I guess it doesn't matter.

I have already said elsewhere, and I will say it again. If your friend has not violated the law, he has my full and sincere apology.

Where's your apology for the violations of privacy, not just of me but of everyone who dared disagree with you? Where's your apology for the double standard of openness that only applies to some people and not others? Where's your apology for secretly giving privileged information to someone with good reason to do me harm? Where's your apology for the ridiculous set of insults? I'm not the only one waiting.

feedle, I have liked and respected you for years. You have been a model of calm and reasoned discourse, reliably kind and pleasant, funny, intelligent, and one of the most tolerant and thoughtful people I've encountered. Your conduct this week is so far beneath you I have wondered sometimes if you were ill.

But now you can't be trusted, you know. Not by anyone, not for a very long time. That's your job to repair, not mine.
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