Although most of the sex commentators I like and respect appear to have climbed on the “Fortuny Is Evil” fleshpile in connection with The Great Craigslist Sex Personals Massacre Of 2006 (I include without limitation Violet Blue (who started out thoughtful but is now namecalling), Mistress Matisse, and Dan Savage), I’ve been disappointed that their united condemnation of Fortuny has been intensely personal, without really coming to grips with the interesting question of what, in a rigorous ethical sense, his great crimes seem to have been. OK, so he’s a “prick” and what he did was wrong” (Matisse), but what moral obligation did he violate? He “sucks” (Savage) and he’s a “creepy guy” and a “jerk” (Violet) — all of which may be true, I don’t know the guy, but what does it have to do with what he actually did?

The more I think about this, the more I come around to thinking that what he did to get the howling mob after him (and by howling mob, I refer more broadly to others who have weighed in on the controversy; the folks I’ve quoted here are the calm and thoughtful ones) was he violated outdated and unreasonable social expectations.

Savage talks about “privacy violations”, Violet about “basic privacy and communication rules of conduct”, but neither of them come to grips with my point, which is that it’s not inherently reasonable to expect random strangers to preserve your privacy. You don’t have any expectation of privacy in an email you send to a stranger; or, if you do, there’s something wrong in your thinking. At best, you’re relying on their social graces — I’ll go so far as to agree that it’s polite to protect the confidences of strangers — but how many random strangers exhibit the manners you’d prefer? Not enough, never enough, especially not when something important — like your privacy — is on the line.

I am heartened to see some understanding of my other point, which is that a lot of responders to sex ads are misbehaving in various ways, and thus are exposing themselves (heh) to more risk than they are comfortable accepting. These miscreants (and I refer specifically to the virtual flashers who slammed the comments on my last post with “the slut was asking for it” self-justifications) seem to be the most outraged, because (like virtually everyone else except me, it seems) they feel their misbehaviour ought to be cloaked by the privacy-protecting practices of their intended victims, and they aren’t happy to learn that their expectations of privacy aren’t as reasonable as they’d hoped.

To which I say, “Waah.”

Violet seems to get this part, writing:

Think of it like this: when you upload a porn photo to Flickr, you are in violation of their Terms of Use rules and they take it down. When you use your work email address to answer an explicit sex ad, you are essentially in violation of your employer’s TOU. If you cheat on your wife, you’re in violation of your marriage’s TOU. In his “experiment”, Jason Fortuny violated several ethical and social TOUs that many of us accept as basic privacy and communication rules of conduct.

But not everyone outed in The Craigslist Experiment was violating one of life’s TOUs — I’ll even argue that the majority of the people who had their personal info revealed didn’t care, or notice.

I don’t, obviously, agree that Fortuny violated any TOUs — if anything, he merely ignored one of those meaningless and overreaching shrinkwrap EULAs on boxed software, one that others are attempting but failing to impose on him, one that he never agreed with and which consequently has no moral or ethical juice. (There’s a huge difference between breaking a promise and failing to behave as expected. The ad in question did not say “All replies kept confidential.” If it had, this argument wouldn’t be happening. Then Fortuny’d be the obvious jerk everyone says he is.)

But I do agree with Violet that folks who were using Craigslist in an ethically appropriate way — which is to say, folks who were ethically free to be looking for rough kinky sex, and who weren’t simply using their response as a vessel for their virtual self-exposure kink “because the slut was obviously asking for it”, folks who weren’t violating any of life’s TOUs, folks with nothing to be ashamed of — these people couldn’t be hurt in the Massacre, and weren’t.

Leaving my sympathy for the remainder muted at best.

Why, exactly, is everyone in favor of a social privacy rule that primarily benefits adulturers, virtual flashers, and other people who engage in online sexual behavior that they can’t defend, proudly and publicly, in their own lives and communities? Why is it so hard to understand that all online behavior is public?