There’s an astonishing firestorm of controversy swirling around a recent event in which someone (male) posted a woman-seeking-sex personal ad on Craigslist. The responses, including the usual spectrum of cock pictures, were collated and made public on a wiki, along with all the contact information provided by respondents. There seems to be an ongoing effort to develop the wiki to more fully “out” the folks who responded, augmenting their information with whatever else can be found out about them from public sources and from those who may know them.

Predictably, all hell has broken loose. Details available from BoingBoing, Violet Blue, and many other sources. The most popular sentiment appears to be that this was a horrid and hateful thing to do.

But was it?

I find myself unable to get very worked up about this. Indeed, I can see a positive side. This might even be a good thing for the online sex personals ecosystem.

I’m reasoning thusly: Online sex personals are, by all reports, a toxic ecosystem. Serious seekers after sex partners, especially female ones, have to wade through an astonishing volume of bizarre, ugly, inappropriate responses in order to find the few “real” responses. For example, a woman emailed BoingBoing with this description, which sounds typical of many other accounts I’ve read:

I’ve posted a few “Casual Encounters” ads at different times looking for various things. The first ad alone received over 300 replies. Some of them were beyond repugnant — the bestiality proposition springs to mind. The majority were unappealing but mundane — people who just didn’t dance the same way I do, mentally speaking, didn’t know how to compose a well-thought-out email or articulate themselves attractively. Those were ones like the one-liner “yo, hit me on MSN”, that kind of thing. I received a lot of dickpix. Then, there were a tiny fraction that drew me in and showed me that as much consideration had gone into their reply as I put into my original post. Those were people I connected with, corresponded with (from a gmail account), and eventually met.

Speaking to all men, let me say this: Mailing a potential female sex partner an unsolicited picture of your dick is not appropriate, it’s not smart, it doesn’t work, it brands you as a vulgar idiot, and it makes all men look bad by gender association with your fucked-up self. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. I repeat, don’t do it. Man law, got it?

So I have no, none, zero, zip, nada, a distinct absence and lack, of sympathy for the guys who are pissing in the well with these inappropriate responses.

Why do they do this? Well, one reason is that they can get away with it. It “feels” anonymous, there’s a perceived zero cost, it’s like socially-approved flashing because nobody sees you except someone who (faintly, theoretically, but not really) “was asking for it.”

Well, guess what? It’s not as anonymous as it feels. As proven by the events prompting this post.

What happened here is that the flasher creeps have been exposed in public, for everyone to point and laugh at. That’s a bad thing? I don’t see how. If it becomes routine, maybe they’ll stop.

Folks who feel differently seem to feel that there’s been a betrayal of some reasonable expectation of privacy, some unwritten social contract that has been protecting these virtual flashers. Huh? If there’s any expectation of privacy in a picture of your johnson that you send to a most-likely-uninterested recipient, it sure as heck isn’t a reasonable expectation.

But what about the few serious, non-offensive responders caught up in this same net? What about the “tiny fraction that drew me in and showed me that as much consideration had gone into their reply as I put into my original post” guys?

I still don’t think they have any reasonable expectation of privacy in their responses, but much more importantly, I don’t see how they were harmed by this exercise. A guy that’s free to be looking for sex on the internet, who writes an inoffensive “you sound like a fun lady, I’d like to get together” letter, how is he harmed? Now the world knows that he’d like to meet women and have sex. The world did not suspect this already? Where is the harm?

My bottom line is that this is just like the old advice from your mother, about not leaving the house while wearing dirty underwear, because you could get hit by a truck and somebody might see it. To me it seems only sensible: don’t write personals responses that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper. Because, in the final analysis, email sent to strangers is an essentially public medium. Argue about whether it ought to be public, we may — but change the fact that it is public, I don’t think we can. (Whoops, Yoda moment, sorry.)

This is not a manifesto, I’m not walking way out on a limb in defense of these opinons. These are merely my preliminary reactions to an interesting story. I don’t use personals myself, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. Judging by the firestorm sweeping the net over this, emotions run hot. Agree or disagree, I’d like to remind everyone who might wish to comment here on ErosBlog that the comments are heavily moderated, and your input needs to be civil and friendly or it simply won’t be seen.