The resignation over the weekend of President Obama’s green-jobs chief Van Jones should serve as a reminder to us that we are all public figures.
No, we’re not White House czars of any sort, and we’re not likely to be in the national spotlight. But on a microcosmic level, we are public figures. And like Jones, whose past controversies forced him to resign from the White House post, most of us in higher ed communications, marketing and PR positions aren’t subject to intense scrutiny when we are hired. There are no Senate confirmation hearings for a university spokesperson. Not even a Faculty Senate confirmation hearing.
But on our campuses and in our communities, we are in the public eye, and more frequently than many political appointees. We serve as campus spokespersons. We present at conferences. We share our expertise and our views in the social media sphere of blogs, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace. We post pictures on Facebook. Some of us freely choose to “thrust [our]selves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved,” and that, my friends, makes us “limited purpose public figures,” according to the legal definition.
I use the term “public” in a very broad sense. But the nature of the public space is changing, thanks to the always-on mediasphere. A savvy attorney could easily argue that any blogger or tweeter is a public figure to some narrowly defined segment of the public.
I’m a part of that sphere. And if you blog, tweet, Facebook, post on forums or otherwise partake in online conversations, so are you. You don’t have to be Tila Tequila — who recently has done a pretty good job of thrusting herself into the forefront of controversy — in order to be considered a public figure in the Internet age.
We should remember that.