With the latest financial disclosures of how the rich are avoiding tax, and a tsunami of news about alleged sexual impropriety across a broad span of industries, it seems like all society’s secrets are spilling out into the open.
First came a trickle of revelations about studio head Harvey Weinstein (it all began with a New York Times investigation ), followed by a flood of other allegations of sexual misconduct in the film and TV industry, in politics, and in sport . Every day, new revelations emerge. What they all seem to have in common is an abuse of power. Next came the Panama Papers, a long-term project worked on by journalists from around the world, which revealed tax avoidance on a massive scale by individuals and companies. These are not illegal activities, but tarnish the tax avoiders’ image and raise questions of how that tax revenue could have been used to build hospitals, schools, pay for a bigger police force, etc.
Even before the internet existed, the press uncovered illegal activity some people wanted to remain secret. The difference now is that the internet turns the spark into a flame, sometimes within just a few hours, as we saw with the #metoo campaign. It gives courage to ordinary people to come forward, because ordinary people can make the news now, through social media. They don’t have to wait for a journalist to write their story up in a newspaper.
All these revelations may never have come to light in a pre-internet age. Most people would argue that that’s a good thing, as with public knowledge comes debate and potentially changes in attitude and to the law.
But we must also remember the other side of the coin, which is the respect of privacy. A judgement call has to be made by journalists and members of the public as to whether revealing other’s secrets is for the good of society, or merely a salacious story which is really none of our business (such as the Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak or as we saw more recently with Sia’s amusing response to a paparazzi trying to sell her nudes).