Education

Woman's sex review proves there is no privacy online

Posted October 7, 2010
Updated October 8, 2010

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— A mock thesis that appears to be written by a Duke University student about her sexual exploits became an Internet sensation this week, raising concerns about whether anything shared online can ever be private.

CBS News reported that Karen Owen sent the 42-page PowerPoint report to a few friends by e-mail. Eventually, it showed up online.

The report, called “An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics,” includes names, photographs and specific descriptions, and it has ratings of more than a dozen men using charts and graphs.

Steve Wiley, an associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University, said publication of the document means the details inside could come back to haunt the author and the men she profiled.

"When you go to apply for a job or meet somebody new, that person may be Googling your name," he said. Duke athletes named in sex 'thesis' Duke athletes named in sex 'thesis'

Current technology means there are no secrets on the Web, Wiley said. What is posted or passed online does not go away.

"It is best to assume we are under surveillance at one form or another most of the time,” Wiley said.

In a statement, a Duke University spokesman said the university is trying to help those who were named.

"Our foremost concern is to provide for the well-being of our students and to respect their privacy," Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public affairs and government relations. "We've been reaching out to those who've been affected by this incident and will continue to support them."

The men named might have legal recourse, Wiley said.

"In dealing with situations where someone’s communication behavior is hurtful to others, there are libel and slander laws," he said.

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  • spine Oct 8, 2010

    Sounds like she stole the script from "Mallrats". :)

  • Jim Britt Oct 8, 2010

    Got it. Thanks.

  • elcid liked Ike Oct 8, 2010

    "If the facts are false aren't they fiction and therefore fall into the realm of FOX News?"

    In the case of this thesis, the assertion that would be made is that the statements are opinions and are not being asserted as facts.

    "Statements of fact" means that the information is being presented as being a fact, rather than as an opinion.

  • Jim Britt Oct 8, 2010

    Professor elcid892, I'm confused by this, "To constitute defamation (slander & libel), two elements are necessary: the statements must be statements of fact (as opposed to opinions) and they must also demonstrably be false".

    If the facts are false aren't they fiction and therefore fall into the realm of FOX News?

  • ItwillbeOK Oct 8, 2010

    I wonder when she'll begin marketing the t-shirts, "I went to Duke and all I got was this lousy t-shirt, STD's and HIV".

  • elcid liked Ike Oct 8, 2010

    "Legally I guess she might, but morally and ethically she is bankrupt already."

    No argument at all. The thesis was in very bad taste, but it doesn't defame the folks named in it.

    For example, I can stand up on WRAL TV (or for that matter on the CBS Evening News nationwide) and say that you cheat on your wife, like to wear women's underwear, have a thing for little girls, cheat on your taxes and use heroin. If it's true, you will have no cause for action against me, at all. I'm free and clear.

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc Oct 8, 2010

    I believe that Sean, just can't believe that she may be able to skate away with no liability. Legally I guess she might, but morally and ethically she is bankrupt already. It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

  • elcid liked Ike Oct 8, 2010

    "Believe it or not but the greater liability will fall on the 'friends' who sent the 'thesis' to others knowing they were not the author and did not have permission to disseminate."

    The ONLY liability would attach to the friends, and even then only if the student who wrote the thesis decided to sue them (which she obviously isn't going to do.) The men named in the thesis have no cause for action at all.

    I agree that it was in exceedingly poor taste, but it's not tortuous.

  • elcid liked Ike Oct 8, 2010

    "Elcid, couldn't it be argued that in this day and age of easy and fast information, that a person should have a reasonable expectation that information they disseminate could very well end up on the internet? Assuming she didn't have a confidentiality disclaimer attached. This is very private and confidential information which she should have kept that way. Names attached to the document seems irresponsible to me. Just wondering..."

    It could be argued, sure. It's also irrelevant. These guys have no cause for action.

  • seankelly15 Oct 8, 2010

    fl2nc2ca2md2nc - Believe it or not but the greater liability will fall on the 'friends' who sent the 'thesis' to others knowing they were not the author and did not have permission to disseminate.

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