Ken Bone Reddit porn and internet privacy today.

What Ken Bone’s Porn Preferences Tell Us About Internet Privacy Today

What Ken Bone’s Porn Preferences Tell Us About Internet Privacy Today

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Oct. 14 2016 12:56 PM

What Ken Bone’s Porn Preferences Tell Us About Internet Privacy Today

613943162-in-this-file-photo-dated-october-9-2016-ken-bone
Ken Bone before he was “famous.”

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Ken Bone—undecided voter, red sweater aficionado, star of the second presidential debate—likes pregnancy porn. He also thinks the killing of Trayvon Martin was “justified” and allegedly committed felony insurance fraud. We know all this because Bone conducted a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” on Thursday night under his actual username, allowing enterprising journalists to scour his commenting history for unsavory remarks. Hop over to Gizmodo to read more about Bone’s soft-core porn preferences and private parts. Why not? As of Friday morning, more than 600,000 people already have.

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably read Bone’s Reddit history half-amused by his witless inanity, half-embarrassed to care a lick what Bone says or thinks. But you’ll still read it, and you won’t feel particularly bad, because Bone thrust himself into the spotlight and even exploited his fleeting fame for cash. Now that Bone is sullied and impure, our fascination with him will surely draw to a speedy close. But before it does, I have to wonder what the popularity of Gizmodo’s Bone exposé tells us about the privacy norms of the internet age. Just a decade ago, we likely would’ve seen any investigation into Bone’s porn preferences as a gross invasion of privacy. Today we see it as shameless, newsworthy fun. What changed?

Advertisement

For most of the 20th century, news outlets were expected to keep an individual’s private life private, unless some private fact might be relevant to a public act. The entire White House press corps famously kept FDR’s disability a secret and kept mum about JFK’s many affairs. But they had a rapport with their subject; what about those individuals who are hoisted out of relative obscurity overnight? When Oliver Sipple thwarted an assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford, several newspapers reported that he was gay. (He was, but he was also semi-closeted.) Sipple considered himself a private person and sued publishers for invasion of privacy; what, he asked, did his sexuality have to do with his heroic actions? He lost his lawsuits, but some outlets elided his sexuality anyway, viewing it as irrelevant. You can bet no newspaper considered naming his favorite pornographic theater.

The issue of public figures’ deeply personal proclivities really reached a head during the Supreme Court battles over Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. During Bork’s hearings, the Washington City Paper obtained his rental records from a video store. The City Paper was presumably hoping to find scandalous titles; the rentals, however, were fairly innocuous. Still, it published the records—to widespread outrage. Congress was so infuriated that it passed a federal law prohibiting the disclosure of rental information, which remains one of the strongest data privacy laws on the books.

That backlash may be the reason Clarence Thomas is on the bench today. Although Anita Hill claimed that Thomas described scenes from his favorite pornographic films in the workplace, reporters were initially hesitant to dig into his rental history. There was, after all, a law against it. When Washington Post reporters finally decided to investigate his rental history, they discovered a goldmine: Thomas had allegedly rented a multitude of lurid pornographic films at the time he worked with Hill. But the Post writers uncovered this information the same day that Thomas was confirmed—and their editors decided not to publish it, concluding that it was no longer newsworthy. The mere existence of these records only came to light years after the fact.

It is more or less impossible for reporters who came of age in the internet era (myself included) to understand why the Post didn’t publish that story. Indeed, I suspect pretty much everyone agrees it was the wrong call: Thomas had chosen to become a highly public figure and hoped to seize a government position of immense power. He deserved the scrutiny. But what about Bone? Or what about Laura Alito, the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, an otherwise private person who was once derided for joking that she was married to a close female friend on Facebook? (It’s funny because her dad doesn’t like gay people.) Or Gregory Caruso, also known as the hot guy from that one GOP debate, who shot to prominence because people liked his face and was then mocked for being a billionaire’s son and a shitty documentarian.

Call it the Ken Bone problem: The internet is not good at differentiating between truly famous people, temporarily famous people, and fame-adjacent people. Theoretically, these categories merit different degrees of privacy, which the media might be expected to respect. But in practice, they all fall into the same bucket, because everyone is on the internet, and there are no secrets on the internet. You no longer have to snoop around a rental store to find out a person’s porn preferences; you need only obtain his Reddit username. Google has shrunk the distance between idle musings and concrete knowledge. Want to know what Ken Bone thinks about half-Japanese, half-Brazilian women? Click and find out.

I’m not scolding Gizmodo for publishing the Bone exposé or its many readers for enjoying it. I enjoyed it! But as I skimmed the comments, I began to think of Bone less as a bumbling goofball and more as a casualty of our new media landscape. He got himself on television for a few minutes and capitalized on his ephemeral fame. When he was a kid, accomplishing that feat meant you had a good story at parties. Today, it means your entire web history will be ransacked and presented to the world. Ken Bone is a lesson, a reminder that your internet history is only as private as you are. Enter the public realm and your weird porn comments likely will, too. That is the media landscape we live in today. And after Ken Bone, there is no turning back.