Allison Stokke, Web aggregation effects and privacy2.0

If you check Web aggregators (such as del.icio.us/popular or digg) you probably heard about Allison Stokke already. She is an 18 years old pole vaulter. And she is getting a lot of unwanted attention because a photo of her (here on the left) was posted on a football message board and then was hyped by bloggers, myspacers, etc. And then the Washington post deserved devoted an entire article on the front page to her and this of course made her even more popular and web searched.

I can totally understand she and her family does not like this unwanted attention. She is an athlete and she would like to be judged on that, if anything. However I believe that somehow this unwanted attention is an opportunity for her, she has a choice, she can (1) choose to let it fade away (because I’m sure that if she does not ride the situation, this attention will fade away soon, surely in one year few people will remember her or search for her on the Web) or (2) she can decide to exploit it (I’m sure she already received offers for books, interviews, for acting in movies and possibly more weird things that she can choose to exploit if she likes). I’m also aware that it should not be an easy period for her, I was reading that she does not feel like walking around alone.

Let me just mention passing by that it is just by pure chance that she (and not another similarly attractive athlete) got all this attention. This attention is just the product of Web aggregation. There is an interesting paper by Duncan Watts which empirically shows that, while aggregation produces items that got a lot of attention (the best sellers, top 10, etc.), in different separated worlds with the same items, the social processes will put at the top of the global attention list different items. In a different parallel world this could have been happened to you, yes you. So what happened is something that touches all of us and should make all of us think about it. But I guess this is not a relief for her and her family.

Personally, I think that you cannot control what other people tell about you, and this is become more and more true in the Internet age. I’m used to summarize it with “it’s the direction of the arrow, stupid!”, meaning that you can control what you say about other people (outgoing arrows) but you cannot control what other people say about you (incoming arrows). It is the reason by which PageRank algorithm is so clever and HITS algorithm is not so clever. I’m aware this can sometimes turn into bashing and horrible periods for some people but I think this is also a great opportunity for society and the risks can be mitigated if anyone is educated about this and slow in judging.

The last point I want to briefly mention is about privacy, especially privacy in time of web2.0. Is it ethical for me to write this post knowing that she does not like this attention? Is it ethical for the Washington Post writing an article about her? Is there any difference? I’m not sure about the first 2 questions but I believe that the answer to the third question is “no”. WithLeather asks her/his/itself How would I feel if it were my daughter that got this unwanted attention? Well, I suppose I would be upset but I think I don’t have the right to ask to all the people to not write about, I might ask for their comprehension on reporting facts accurately or to defer from speaking about this. Don’t know. And more, There should be a Wikipedia page about Allison Stokke or not?

What is great about blogging is that it helps you ask yourself lots of questions. Another advantage of this post is also that I can now check the access statistics to see if this post becomes the most read post just because it contains in the title the name of a buzzed girl and it is related to sex.

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