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Hulk Hogan and Social Media as the New Big Brother

August 4, 2015 1 comment

Have you ever said anything you regret? Anything that is a little bit offensive? Anything that might get you fired? Ever get angry and vent inappropriately? Have you done that any time in the last eight years?

Last week, wrestler Hulk Hogan was released from his contract by the World Wresting Federation (WWE) because he had been recorded in a racist rant eight years earlier. Am I the only person disturbed by this? I don’t condone racism. And I’m not ready to invite Hogan over for tea. But was it a pattern of behavior over time, or just one rant? He apologized for the rant. Are we allowed to be wrong and grow and change any more? No matter what he said, should a person’s life be changed by one rant?

WWE is a publicly traded company, and they are within their rights to fire anyone for not meeting the terms of their contract. I don’t know what Hogan’s contract says, but I’m sure they have a lot of leeway. Hogan has moved over the years from being a feature attraction, to nice to have around, to now a liability—so they let him go. But this is representative of a broader trend: we are moving dangerously close to a world foretold by old science fiction novels. Where one angry moment, captured on video, changes your life. In Orwell’s 1984, it was the government that was responsible for surveillance. In 2015, it’s the public and the media—spread via social media. Social media is the new Big Brother.

OK, at least Hogan knew he was being recorded. That’s not true for the employees of Planned Parenthood who were surreptitiously recorded, and the results edited and shown out of context for political purposes. It’s not true of the employees of Acorn who similarly targeted in 2010. And it’s not true of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was recorded making racist remarks by his girlfriend in his own home. As a result of those remarks, Sterling was forced to sell the team. His case is arguably the most disturbing, because he was in his own home at the time the remarks were made. Lately it seems like we all might be recorded at any time. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in the court of public opinion. 

Hulk Hogan might be a bit racist. A preponderance of reports confirms that Donald Sterling is definitely a racist—that tape was just the tip of the iceberg. But no matter how despicable Sterling is, I believe in his right to privacy in his own home. The source of these privacy violations is not the government, but the easy ability to record video and share it over social media. But the solution to our eroding privacy is not clear.

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