The Difference Between Celebrity, Notoriety, and Public Lives

I speak a lot about reputation architecture and reputation management, and personal branding. They are all topics of interest in today’s fishbowl world, and completely fascinate me. I have a number of friends that share that fascination, and we all share articles and thoughts on the topics. Recently one of them,  Tara Christianson, shared a post on NPR called “Privacy 2.0: We are all Celebrities Now” by Linton Weeks. The post was interesting , comparing the celebrity of Justin Bieber, Reese Witherspoon and President Barack Obama with the issues faced by participants in online networks, lamenting that “we are all becoming public figures whether we want to be or not. And it’s changing the rules we live by.

The article goes on to prove its point by  quoting David Hector Montes , whom they title as “the former outreach director of the Pro Bono Research Group at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University“.   The prevalence of social media, Montes says, “has created a culture of over-sharing.” And this “is blurring the lines between who is a public figure and who is not.” Mr. Montes points out that if we are all busy sharing, we have little or no expectations that our public sharing might be considered private. I think that should be obvious, but Mr. Week’s comparison of the mundane with the famous did make me realize that many of us have become confused about what our online activities mean to the world at large.

Celebrity  is defined as defined by Merriam-Webster (call me old fashioned)  as  the state of being celebrated” Call me silly, but to me that means a positive and happy event which probably is based upon achievement or talent (like those three folks we mentioned earlier). Being notorious (what you need in order to gain notoriety) is defined by the same folks as “: generally known and talked of; especially : widely and unfavorably known”. In other words, notoriety has a more negative implication – but is similar to celebrity in that both “states of being” are granted to the individual by by the opinions of others.  And then there are those people who choose to live public lives, parading their good and bad choices for all to see like any of the cast members of the various “Real Housewife” shows ( I admit it, I watch them – after all who doesn’t love a train wreck?)  The problem arises when we don’t recognize the difference in ourselves or in others.

In the bubble of the online world, the constant and immediate feedback we get from friends , acquaintances, and strangers can make us seem more important than we are. Or perhaps that we have greater influence than we actually have. For example a high Klout score doesn’t mean you really have clout in the traditional sense, it just  means that you are active on social networks. But an active social stream , or large numbers of “connections” on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn might provide an onlooker with an impression that those large communities actually are influenced by what we say or do. And as a result, people who don’t delve deeply into our backgrounds,may imbue us with an unwarranted amount of authority.

The issue of granting authority based on appearance rather than experience or expertise may be far greater than the privacy concerns of someone who shares the details of  their life on the Internet.  Though privacy is an important issue, engaging in a public arena should come with an assumption of exposure to the public. The basis of authority on a subject however, should not be based on assumption, but on knowledge of the individual’s background.

Let’s take Mr. Montes for example. Some cursory research shows that aside from the title he had as a student at the the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University (yes, the Pro Bono Research Group is a student organization) there is no public information available to show that he has some depth of experience in social media, group psychology, behavioral psychology, or experience that would indicate that his opinions have more weight than yours or mine. I don;t mean to  indicate anything negative or derogatory about Mr. Montes.  After all he graduated last year from Law School – an accomplishment that is no small feat by itself, and indicates that he is bright and diligent law student. But that doesn’t  lead me to think (as the article did) that he is an expert in social media or privacy issues. What its does lead me to believe is that we are especially confused about celebrity, authority and public statements in the public space.

So let’s make ourselves a few promises:

  1. When a statement is made online we will check out the pedigree of the speaker to assure ourselves that they are someone whose background warrants the respect we offer.
  2. When we engage in a public space we will conduct ourselves as if everything we say is being recorded for others to view, and our actions and words should represent us to others in the manner we wish to be perceived
  3. We will do our best to distinguish between the public figures that are attention seekers, notorious because they act badly, and people who deserve to be celebrated because of their actions or skills.  We will ignore, try to correct, and honor people based on their speech and actions – and not because of the number of people that are linked to them electronically.

And finally, we will remember that celebrity is fleeting – In the 1960’s Andy Warhol was quoted as saying “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” – he later modified that changing it to “In 15 minutes everyone will be famous” today it seems, he is right on both counts –

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