Will Holley

Violating the Privacy of Celebrities is Not Free Speech

“ElonJet Is Now Suspended” was the top item on Hacker News this morning. @ElonJet posted “on landing and take off and states the location, state, country, and city” of private planes which are owned by Elon Musk affiliated companies. From the project’s website, it “also creates an image of a map of that location and attaches [it] to the tweet. [It] also calculates [an] estimated flight time from takeoff to landing and puts the flight time in the landing tweet.”
At what point is aggregating data on an individual’s movement, de-obfuscating it with the intent of linking it to their identity (”a 2015 Gulfstream G650ER, appears to be used more by Elon”), and redistributing it to a broader-than-default audience not targeted harassment?
The majority of comments on HN (or the ten top-voted) threw the stone at Musk’s perceived hypocrisy; he previously tweeted “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk”. Some went so far as to personally attack Musk (”It’s pretty clear Elon wants everyone that has insulted or crossed him or otherwise proven him wrong to suffer some consequence to alleviate his burised ego”). None voiced support of the suspension.
Would the reaction be the same if:
@BarackJet tracked the flights of the former president and inadvertantly his family and aids? @ZuccJet? @KanyeJet? @GatesJet?
@ElonCar tweeted each time Elon’s Telsa left the garage (someone driving his car)?
@GrannysWheels detailed your grandmother’s errands? Consider that anyone can see her get in and out of a car, know her license plate number, and subsequently attempt to colocate her using data freely available online.
Elon didn’t own Twitter? At least one poster made light of @GatesJet still being online as evidence of Elon’s bias.
Culturally, there are two takeaways:
“Free speech is not absolute” is banal yet has not sunk in.
Entitlement has become normalized: people belive that it’s fine (and perhaps even net positive) to violate an individual’s privacy because they’re high-profile, they’re rich, the illuminated actions deviate from the norm, or in response to a perceived slight. It falls under the ethically-flawed category of self-perceived victims’ (”i’m not a billionaire!) proclivity for vindication under the guise of “entertainment”.
#TwitterFiles recently showed us how fallible human beings will be fallible in a messy and ambiguous world. Yet again some Twitter employee made a mistake in suspending an account: all of the maintainer’s flight tracker accounts should have been suspended.
12/15 Edit: the accounts in question were subsequently suspended. Good.