It is our intention to return to “regular” posting after this post. On September 26th, we brought attention to a series of demeaning and profane Facebook comments that were posted by leftist academics in the wake of the Swinburne controversy. Instead of condemning these disgusting comments by their colleagues, the left’s response has been to (1) attack us for posting them and (2) ostracize us by refusing to link to our posts, even going to far as to scrub the hyperlink from our names when commenting on their sites. Their reason? They said they think we have violated peoples’ privacy in posting screenshots of the offensive Facebook comments. Jon Cogburn, for instance, has issued a public statement calling for us to take down the screenshots, and Justin Weinberg, editor of the popular philosophy gossip blog Daily Nous, has said much the same.
We must be forgiven for suspecting their concern for privacy, styled as a ethical concern, is a little disingenuous, given that we have offered a reply to the concern that has not been engaged. Now one would think that a philosophy professor like Cogburn would surely at least attempt to engage with the substance of our argument. But for someone who gets paid to reason for a living, Cogburn doesn’t seem at all interested in reasoning. You can imagine, then, why the ethical concern comes across as little more than intentional selection bias wrapped nicely in sanctimonious virtue-signalling.
Nice try, Cogburn, but your bully tactics are not going to work. I have received word from BlueHost that posting Facebook screenshots is not in violation of their service agreement. Indeed, they informed me that there are no grounds for a takedown. And why would there be any? There is no reasonable expectation of privacy on Facebook statuses and comments. End of story. The images will remain online for the entire world to see.
So, how about an actual response to the substance of our post, Mr. Cogburn? Stop hiding behind silly legal threats. It’s definitely clear that we’ve touched a nerve here. Rightly Considered was started to provide a dissenting voice for conservative philosophers in academia, an it’s obvious that the tolerant and inclusive left doesn’t want our voice to be heard. But our impact so far has already exceeded all of our expectations, and we routinely get emails from closeted conservatives thanking us for our work. We will continue to expose the hypocrisy, abuse, and bully tactics from leftists in academia.
Now that we have that out of the way, we will address the substance of Cogburn’s legal accusations head on (a compliment he apparently will not return). We take the charge that we have violated peoples’ privacy very seriously. Whether it is styled as an ethical charge or a legal one, the charge depends on the following empirical claim:
That some Facebook statuses or comments are “private” in any serious sense is quite dubious. Anything you post on Facebook could be seen by people you do not know, or by people you know but do not want to see it. For example, if you comment on a post that had its custom settings limited to, say, ten friends, the user whose post it is could, at any time, change the setting to “public” and the world could see your comments. As a commenter, you would not have any legal or policy grounds on which to object. Frankly, it is naïve to think your posts and comments are “private.” This may be why court after court has repeatedly ruled that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when posting or commenting on Facebook. You ought to proceed as if hundreds of thousands of people can see your information at any time.
So, we at Rightly Considered deny the claim that we have posted screenshots of “private” Facebook posts because there is no such expectation of privacy. That aside, let’s consider the screen shots we posted in the Swinburne post. The majority of screenshots were from posts marked “public.” We included two posts (plus some comments on those posts) that were not set for “public” but for “friends” and “custom.” We will address those two screenshots respectively.
Kate Abramson: Abramson’s post was ostensibly set to “friends.” This Facebook setting dictates that all of your friends will see the post. However, Abramson, pehaps unwittingly, used a Facebook workaround that temporarily nullifies this setting. In her post she “tagged” Jason Stanley and Kathryn Pogin. Doing this ensured that her post was seen not just by only her friends, but all of Stanley’s and Pogin’s friends too. In doing so, Abramson invited over a thousand people, the vast majority of whom she did not know, to view her post. The leftist narrative has been that Abramson wanted an intimate safe space to share her feelings with a few close friends, and we invaded that safe space. That narrative is false.
Elizabeth Barnes: This seems to be the only post our critics could reasonably point to as a violation of privacy, but we deny that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy here, too. Barnes’ post was set to “custom.” This setting allows you to customize who sees your post. Such a setting does not entail that what gets posted is intended to be private. For example, you could make your Facebook post viewable to literally everyone on Facebook except your crazy ex-girlfriend, and the post would still be marked “custom.” It is noteworthy that in the post in question, Barnes actually declared a “party” on her wall, inviting “progressive Christians” to celebrate in their heresy. Hardly a Tupperware pow wow among intimates. So the claim that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy is silly, and has no basis in legal fact. Moreover, we received this screenshot from a third party, which is relevant to the legal concern. The law has held that if the police are given information in a Facebook post from a third party, they would not be in violation of the person’s Fourth Amendment rights. These rulings have been held up in appellate courts as well. Therefore, while Barnes may not like the fact that we posted her comment, we violated no policy or law in doing so. However we adjudicate this, at the end of the day it appears that the entire dustup only plausibly involves a single, solitary screenshot. What a let down!
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