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Opinion: Why celebrities should expect and demand data protection
Warning: This article contains passages on depression, addictions, defamation, sexual abuse and suicide.
A post about celebrities? They can’t expect to have any privacy. Why should they? First, let me explain the motivation for this post:
I have seen many many social media postings and articles as well, which badmouth celebrities as a matter of course. My intention behind this post is to create awareness and sensitize that these are also quite normal people.
As soon as a person of public interest expresses himself unpleasantly or shows an inappropriate behavior the press goes crazy. But it’s not just public reporting (e.g. in newspapers off- and online) that can be cruel, but also the opinions of people on social media channels.
Whereas celebrities used to „only“ have to deal with the press, they can now also read almost everything that used to only be told privately. Celebrities aren’t allowed to say anything, they have to put up with it because they’re known - at least that’s the general opinion. It’s their own fault. You often read arguments like this on the usual social media channels, including Mastodon.
But is it really their own fault? And why do we treat celebrities like animals in the zoo? Why do we think these people deserve less privacy? And how would we feel like if this were our lives?
The original article was posted in German (above). I thought it would be beneficial (as it’s a global phenomenon and a lot of people, which are affected do not speak German) to have an english version.
How do you become a public figure and is it always your own fault?
There are many ways to become famous. Often, these people have not consciously chosen themselves.
- Brooke Shields [on urge of the mother]
- the Olsen Twins [were cast as babies for a TV series]
- Raven Symone [was cast as a toddler for a TV series]
- Prince Harry & Prince William [sons of Princess Diana and Prince Charles]
- Michael Jackson [marketed by father as a child and put into the Jackson 5 with his siblings]
- Diana Queen of Wales [marriage]
- Drew Barrymore [goddaughter of Steven Spielberg and got into film as a toddler through acting family]
- Pamela Anderson [attended a sporting event and was just sitting in the audience]
- Internet phenomena / involuntary upload by third parties
- and many more.
Someone can become a public figure if, for example, like many young performers, he or she has been pulled in front of the camera by their parents since babyhood or childhood. One can also become a public figure by getting married and completely underestimating the consequences of a public life, such as Diana Queen of Wales, who repeatedly mentioned in interviews that she underestimated the need for attention around her person. Ultimately, she died after having a car accident with a drunk driver while fleeing paparazzi. Her underage sons had to accompany their mother’s coffin in front of a television audience of millions. To this day, the pictures can be seen regularly on TV and also on the Internet.
One can also be particularly good at his or her work, for example because it brings him or her joy, and becoming famous is a result. Of course, you can also become famous because you crave attention and even if you are not good at what you do.
It can also be that someone has been the victim of a violent crime and thus the relatives come into the public eye. Instead of sympathy, there are then usually assumptions and accusations against someone who, in the worst case, is going through the worst time of his life and the public is watching
So there are many ways to achieve fame. In the public debate, however, it is often assumed that these people wanted it that way and always chose it.
What impact does it have on a person’s everyday life or life?
One might think that these people have everything they could wish for, e.g. big houses. Of the fact that they have to hide in it as well, in order to have at least something space, speak the fewest.
But what does such a life of a superstar or just star look like in the USA, for example?
Maps to your houses are sold. Tourists taking pictures of you and your property at regular intervals. Sunbathing in your own garden? Better not. You can’t go out to eat, meet friends, and certainly not date anyone without photos being taken and being jugded. It doesn’t matter if the information that gets out to the public is true or false. In really bad cases, your house is broken into and private video footage is stolen as happened to Pamela Anderson in the 90s. The documentary Pamela: A Love Story on Netflix also gives deep insights on the subject. The stolen sex video is still circulating today against her will. Pamela Anderson also mentions in the documentary that the mini-series „Pam & Tommy“, which is available on Disney+ also did not have her permission (Source: 1:33 hrs - 1:34 hrs / Pamela: A Love Story).
I feel like a zoo animal. ~ Jennifer Lawrence
Not to mention paparazzi following you around. In the worst case, this can lead to anxiety disorders and paranoia. And not only is the privacy of celebrities very limited by this, but also that of their children.
We may remember the pictures of how Michael Jackson’s children had to grow up. In case the readership is too young for that: They were only allowed to leave the house with masks that covered the complete face. For their own protection. The actress Halle Berry had therefore lobbied for an Anti Paparazzi Law, which should at least protect the children of celebrities.
Furthermore, statements shouldn’t been taken. People are regularly defamed and strokes of fate are exploited in the news, regardless of how they make people feel.
Moreover, images of public figures are constantly used, distorted and exploited - whether they like it or not. They are misused for memes and ridiculed. Their photos are even printed on fake passports.
They are said to be having affairs and without proof or judicial verdicts they are carried out in public, regardless of how the family, e.g. the wife/husband or possible children are dealing with it - if it doesn’t matter how the person concerned is feeling about it. Nude pictures are shared and spread that were never meant for the public. Deepfakes are created, which in the worst case are also believed.
It is also possible that the children of politicians in the U.S. are often unintentionally in the media, such as the son of former President Barron Trump. On Twitter at the time, a TV presenter made fun of the then 10-year-old, who hardly uttered a word in public and was occasionally seen taking his father’s presidential plane on trips. That was followed by an appeal from the White House: „It is a longstanding tradition that the children of presidents are afforded the opportunity to grow up outside of the political spotlight“
There was also approval from former President Bill Clinton’s daughter, who said „Barron Trump deserves the chance that every child has - to be a child.“ If you look at the coverage, the statement didn’t help then or now, and even alleged classmates talked about him without permission, albeit positively.
How can it be that we make fun of children, speculate about them and expose their schools just because their parent is a thorn in the flesh for many?
My personal opinion is how big or small the child is or how they look right now has no relevance to the world and none of these newspaper articles should even exist. Similar to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, for example: pictures of little Princess Charlotte crying went around the world.
Who has bought the newspapers, seen the reports or watched the YouTube videos, is aware that she is a little girl who is missing her grandma? It is important to know that the royal family has made contracts with the TV stations in advance that the complete funeral will not be broadcast on TV and the family should not be disturbed in their grief.
From talking to local politicians in Germany, I have heard that some also do not take their children to election parties because some parties are so divided that there is a danger that the children will then be exposed to the public to harm the politician.
Due to such conditions, it is not surprising that divorce rates are very high and that stars and starlets regularly lose their footing and fall into alcoholism, drug addiction, anorexia or depression. Some get away from it, some do not.
The dilemma with false reporting
But even if you have a specific concern that you want to present, you can get lost in numerous pitfalls. From unconscious or deliberate false reporting or badmouthing opponents. I myself have already shared data protection topics where the person concerned in the article later said that the article was misleading and what has been described was not possible at all. In this case, the article was about our data protection expert Ulrich Kelber. Except for the veto of him, I have found no reappraisal in the public reporting.
I asked Stephanie Henkel from the Pirate Party about these issues and she told me cases where not one quote from two people from another party was correctly attributed to them in their entire term of office.
The smaller and more insignificant you are, and the more you want to get press with your cause, the greater the dichotomy. - Stephanie Henkel
Someone who, for example, has a political concern that he or she considers important, usually has to decide what is more important to him or her at the moment. That each quote is correctly assigned and the context is correct or simply not to be mentioned at all with the concern. In addition, poorly researched reports or false statements can even be made in one’s own favor in a positive sense, even if this should probably be less often the case.
My demand on YOU
Perhaps you are familiar with the term „celebrity worship syndrome“? It refers to the fascination with a certain celebrity or the preoccupation with the person, which turns into a certain kind of parasocial relationship. Psychcentral writes that it is described as a compulsive-addictive disorder, even though it is not a clinically recognized condition in the Handbook of Mental Disorders.
In most cases, it is a one-sided relationship, the prominent person does not even know about the existence of their admirer.
Especially important: It doesn’t even have to be a person you like. Social media reinforces this impression. You think you know what makes the person tick, what they like, and build a (one-sided) relationship.
In many cases, this also leads to these people regularly receiving invitations to dates from complete strangers or having certain pictures sent to them. That this is or can be perceived as an assault does not come to mind to most of them. Also, the tone towards the person may change to one of command: I demand that you leave the party, I don’t want you to work for this company, how can you do X? Or in short: I demand you.
At this point, it should be mentioned that this applies to people who are considered „good-people“ and „bad-people“ in the public eye. So this can apply just as well if you frequently report about a politician/celebrity you don’t like and what he or she has done wrong in your opinion. This is the same effect. One deals excessively consciously or unconsciously with this person and believes to know him or her and his or her values, only instead of sympathy, antipathy builds up with the person concerned.
However, this proximity, as described above, is only simulated and does not have to and will not represent the real image of this person. The possibility that this person reveals everything about himself and keeps nothing to himself is small, the probability that there are no false reports about him is almost impossible. Most people know this, but do not catch themselves acting according their knowledge.
Debates in the English-speaking world
There are always debates on the subject, especially in the US, which often led to to nothing. Many are annoyed by the paparazzi. Individuals make statements now and then to speak out for privacy, but there is no big lobby, although people ask for it again and again. The temptation to make a profit from the suffering of others is too seducing.
Debates in the English-speaking world (USA, Australia, UK):
The Rhode Show 2009
Studio 10: Do Celebs have a right of privacy?
Anti Paparazzi Law (which is just for the children of celebrities)
Privacy is a commodity
Elizabeth Hurley about privacy and living with her son
Celebrities Who Dislike Being Famous!
Cameron Diaz on Privacy/Being a Celebrity: https://youtube.com/watch?v=6Fvmq638E3Y
It would be easy to say: „move away“ or „it’s your own fault in which country you live in“. No, it’s not. You simply have no influence in which country you were born in. Also, it’s not always as easy as it seems to move away, even if the person wants to. See also the divorce war of Halle Berry, who wanted to move to France with her child for privacy reasons and was prevented by her ex-husband. For some stars and starlets, emigration is also financially impossible despite assets, depending on whether their country has world tax. That means no matter where they live they have to pay taxes to the country for which they hold the citizenship and the one they live in. You have to be able to afford that.
Is it so much better in Germany or German-speaking countries?
There are stricter rules in Germany, but the media or simply people violate celebrity rights regularly, too.
For example, the magazine „Bunte“ published wedding photos of Günther Jauch and his wife against the couple’s wish. The two took the matter to various courts and failed. Beforehand, they had also announced that they did not want any press photos.
Another example is Austrian actor Peter Alexander, who filed a lawsuit against a magazine one day before his death, because it violated his right of personality because it reported on his state of health and his grief over family losses.
In the recent past, for example, there was also the case of the german Youtubers Orange Morange against Tanzverbot. Here Orange Morange had published the place of residence of Tanzverbot (Doxxing). He has since then been afraid to leave the house. The lawyer Christian Solmecke has worked up the case in the media.
We have a few celebrity voices that say something about privacy, for example, the actress Nora Tschirner, who said in a Spiegel interview in 2014, that she does not want to be photographed or touched on the street.
And also the presenter, of the ZDF „Fernsehgarten“ Andrea Kiewel regrets that she published photos with her eldest son and would like to have them deleted.
„…wenn ich Herrn Google persönlich kennen würde, wie gern ich diese Bilder löschen würde“ - Andrea Kiewel
„…if I knew Mr. Google personally, how I would love to delete these images“ - Andrea Kiewel
A more recent example is the suicide of biologist Clemens Arvay. Regardless of whether one believes his research or not, friends and family speak of massive defamation on Wikipedia and news articles, which, in addition to a failed relationship, led to his suicide. In the Wikipedia article discussions include „dirt finds dirt“ about the author. The Wikipedia itself seems to have noticed that blame them, which can be read at the discussion page about the page of Clemens Arvay.
I don’t want to go too much into the topic, because the main statement I want to make is not whether the man was right or not, but
in how far such people may be put down and exposed? To the point of suicide? That cannot be the solution.
Speaking of exposing, the „trend“ to expose other people in public life or even small Youtubers. One creates a video in which you give the appearance of filling it with facts (and yes, in many respects there are some) and work it up semi-journalistically.
Video titles are for example:
- This guy was fired
- HE has crossed boundaries
- I’m disappointed in him
- Is this guy trolling or is he just stupid?
- The most disgusting TikToker is back
- This dating coach is a misogynistic A…
- and many more
There are often banners above the thumbnails which often show the words: „exposed“, „deviant“, „difficult“ or „disgusting“.
And also in the videos then not quite neutral is tried to say morally superior, what the person about whom one speaks for a bad person is or in other words „disgusting“.
Since these videos also see a lot of young viewers, it may be that they see it as a kind of journalistic offer. Some of these videos are quite professional. Now voices could be raised, but what if the person has really done something bad? Then I must be allowed to say in my video or article how „bad“ and „disgusting“ he or she is.
I don’t want to and can’t make a legal statement on this, but gladly refer to the German Press Code. The highest commandment (rank 1) in the press code is the following:
Respect for the truth, preservation of human dignity
and accurate informing of the public are the overri-
ding principles of the Press. - https://www.presserat.de/pressekodex.html?file=files/presserat/dokumente/pressekodex/Pressekodex2017english.pdf
In this case, I would also like to briefly reiterate that everyone can think for themselves about the extent to which this applies to some press reports on celebrities.
It should also be mentioned that even if a prominent person is in the public eye, this does not mean that he or she may be photographed and the pictures subsequently placed on the Internet or sold to newspaper publishers. This is where in Europe the Caroline Case could apply. This has been the case since the mid-1990s with Princess Caroline of Monaco, who repeatedly went to court because of violations of her privacy.
Are we saying some people deserve less privacy than others? Private moments like grief, family problems need to be shared with us?
Do we follow every step they take? Do we make fun of them, stare at them until they become drug addicted or depressed and when that happens we hold the camera on them?
The question is, how do we continue to deal with the issue of celebrity privacy as a society? Is it non-existent, those it affects must now live with it? That’s how it is! If one or the other kills himself, is it then simply like that? Do we change something for future generations or do we change something for everyone? Or are we not interested in all this and we stick to the status quo?
The actress Brooke Shields for example speaks now openly about the photos that were shot of her as a 10-year-old for Playboy. She was urged to do so at the time and had not yet developed any sense of shame (according to her own statement). Apart from it, how it can be possible that a magazine like the Playboy was able to print this and there was no public outcry?
Is there any benefit in having these pictures still online? She is no longer 10 years old, it should be clear to most that wounds here can sit deep.
Do we question when we badmouth someone publicly? Do we now consider whether we are bad-mouthing someone in public, for example, on social media? The probability that the person concerned, reads this post is low - so why write it? So that other readers, can appropriate one’s own opinion? So that one feels morally superior? Because you inwardly hope that the person concerned might scroll through their social media accounts sometime in the evening and then realize why they are disgusting in some eyes?
My personal opinion on the subject is: treat people with more respect again. Of course, this will not always go well, especially in stressful situations, but it shouldn’t be possible that because someone is good at a job and is liked by many (or not) can be followed at every step in some countries. That spouses who are not in the public eye are exposed (e. g. e.g. by the German Federal Employment Agency or the Job Center for a
Youtube video). Should one rather decide in the future against a love marriage, because the partner stands wanted or unwanted in the public?
Everyone should have the opportunity to go out to eat without being observed, photographed or even followed.
Just a couple of days ago, an absolutely readable article about former child actress Mara Wilson (Matilda) appeared in the german newspaper „Der Spiegel“.
Original quote: Die Wut sei ihre Antwort auf den Druck gewesen. »Ich hatte definitiv eine selbstzerstörerische Phase«, sagt sie. In ihrem Fall habe sich diese durch Selbsthass geäußert. »Ich sagte mir ständig: ›Du bist ein Loser, du bist eine Versagerin, du bist hässlich.‹« (Quelle: Spiegel)
Translated quote: The anger, she says, was her response to the pressure. „I definitely had a self-destructive phase,“ she says. In her case, she says, it manifested itself through self-loathing. „I kept telling myself, ‚You’re a loser, you’re a failure, you’re ugly.‘“ (Source: Spiegel)
Original quote: »Erwachsene Männer haben mir unangemessene Briefe geschickt und Dinge über mich ins Netz gestellt. Als ich zwölf war, habe ich den Fehler gemacht, mich selbst zu googeln und Dinge gesehen, die ich nicht mehr ungesehen machen konnte.« Beispielsweise Bilder auf Porno-Websites, ihr Gesicht auf die Körper nackter Frauen montiert. (Quelle: Spiegel)
Translated quote: „Grown men have sent me inappropriate letters and posted things about me on the web. When I was twelve, I made the mistake of Googling myself and saw things I couldn’t unsee.“ For example, pictures on porn websites, her face mounted on the bodies of naked women. (Source: Spiegel)
Mara Wilson enlightend the living room evenings of many families in the 90s with films like „Matilda“ or „The Miracle on 34th Street)“. Many children who used to watch and love her movies are now adults and may even have families of their own with children who still watch and enjoy her movies today. Only Mara seems to still carry wounds from it, because strangers could do that to a child’s soul so far and with impunity.
Of course, many more examples could have been included in the article, from Playboy Bunnys, which in retrospect were not so voluntary, although publicly claimed to hate messages to the Luke Mockridge trial. There wasn’t room for everything, but I think the point was made:
We cannot watch people deteriorate in health and be happy about it and, depending on how much antipathy we feel towards them, perhaps even earn money with it in YouTube videos.