I was shaken yesterday: suddenly, out of the blue, I got an abusive text message from one of the other members of a political movement that I belong to. I know who she is and she probably knows who I am, otherwise why would she send me a text accusing me of racism and bigotry?
In the past before the age of information people could get a hold of you through the phone operator, but others chose to have an unlisted number. In addition, your address could be traced, but it took some effort and determination.
Nowadays in a similar fashion to the ease of buying guns, abusive messages have many easy and convenient channels to go through like mails, text messages, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and probably there are many more.
Indeed today everyone can get online and find my email address in order to harass me. Even if they are not my Facebook friends, people can still send me private negative messages on Messenger, and there is a good chance that I shall see them. But the WhatsApp is the most dangerous of all. Once you become an active member of an organization or a movement and wish to contribute the first step is to belong to a group WhatsApp. Once you sign up (in order to participate in the discussions, to share ideas and discuss plans) you become vulnerable. Suddenly you are at the mercy of the other members of the group and there is a good chance that someone could lash out at you, accuse you of something or, like in my case, send you an abusive message for no reason. For me this is the embodiment of violation of privacy.
Several years ago I read an article called “The Death of Privacy,” the writer claimed that because of the information age there was no expectation for privacy. At the time I was sure that the writer exaggerated. In the past, especially in Israel, people lived in tiny apartments and in kibbutzim. Privacy, so I thought, was a luxury. My parents who raised two children in a one bedroom apartment hardly had any privacy, and I have a house of my own and can do everything.
But then I did not fathom all the implications and I didn’t imagine that one day people would use the WhatsApp to send me hate messages.
Privacy is a relatively new area of research and it has changed drastically in recent years. In one of the earlier articles devoted to the subject, the sociologist Alan P. Bates provides a helpful definition of the term: “a person’s feeling that others should be excluded from something which is of concern to him, and also recognition that others have a right to do this” (1964)
This wonderful definition has nothing to do with our reality. But I hope that still it is not too late to eradicate abusive messages and to restore the expectation of privacy: it is simply a matter of mutual respect.