Do the Kissing Couple represent an end to public privacy?

The Vancouver couple whose smooch was seen round the world end up on "Today" in record time. Thanks, Internet

Published June 21, 2011 9:01PM (EDT)

"The Kissing Couple" is what the media has dubbed them: After Scott Jones and Alex Thomas were caught by photographer Rich Lam passionately smooching on the ground in the middle of the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, it took only a day before the Internet figured out their names. By Monday, the couple of six months were on "Today" talking about the circumstances around the kiss.

We can thank the Internet for the quick turnaround, with its billions of users who more and more frequently are out to expose your identity, not make you more anonymous. But is the Kissing Couple an example of the Internet's desire to keep everyone in line via some Orwellian nightmare where we're all spying on each other and constantly outing private moments, messages and Twitpics? Brian Stelter of the New York Times seems to think so:

This growing "publicness," as it is sometimes called, comes with significant consequences for commerce, for political speech and for ordinary people’s right to privacy. There are efforts by governments and corporations to set up online identity systems. Technology will play an even greater role in the identification of once-anonymous individuals: Facebook, for instance, is already using facial recognition technology in ways that are alarming to European regulators.

Using other recent examples of viral photos and video "outings," it's easy to lump Jones and Thomas in with the woman who screamed at a conductor on the subway last week, or Anthony Weiner. But that's forgetting a major contextual component: the Kissing Couple is a force of positive identification. Sure, the technology might be the same, but the reasons for people wanting to hear about these two are completely different from trying to track down the girls Weiner showed his wiener to. The Kissing Couple is far more reminiscent, in my opinion, of Patrick Moberg's "NY Girl of My Dreams" project, for which he drew a picture of a cute girl on the subway and enlisted the entire Internet to track her down. He did, and the duo got their own "Good Morning America" appearance.

If the idea is that soon we are going to be too afraid to go to any extremes in public because of the fear that it will wind up on the Internet, is that such a bad thing? Maybe the idea of the anonymous regulators of the Web deprivatizing your freakouts will compel you not to blow up at train conductors or start screaming at the person ahead of you in line at Wendy's. The case of the Kissing Couple is a great reminder that both sweet and sour things have equal potential to go viral; in that sense Big Brother may be watching, but he's not judging.

By Drew Grant

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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