We are all public figures now

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.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

3 thoughts on “We are all public figures now”

  1. Ron – I think about it quite a bit, too. These days, I think about it especially in terms of my personae on Twitter and on Facebook. On Facebook, a lot of old chums from high school and college have connected with me, and on Twitter, the connections are more with colleagues in higher ed, marketing, PR, etc. Thinking about my various personae (including the one that exists on this blog) leads me to ponder some of the identity issues that sociologist Sherry Turkle first brought up in her book, The Second Self, oh so many years ago.

    I think this may be good fodder for a blog post, but it would be a long and introspective one, and these days I doubt I have the attention span to create it. ;)

  2. I’ve thought about this a fair amount, and it is part of the reason my interactions in the world of social media are semi-anonymous.

    I desire interaction with higher ed Web and marketing folks.

    I’m not looking to network for a future job or consulting gig.

    And, since I’m also an in-the-trenches college recruiter (albeit working in the interactive/Web/SM/etc. world), I don’t want a Web search of my name by a prospective student to turn up discussions about marketing.

    I’m less concerned about the pros and cons of future employers name-searching me, but at the point I become concerned, it would be too late to retrieve my digital record associated with my full name if that was my desire.

    Just think, future presidential candidates are likely to have extensive digital records on the Web related to social networking sites, blog post comments, school paper articles archived online, etc. It’s interesting to see this evolve.

    On Point (WBUR Boston) had a fascinating show this past Monday discussing the book “Total Recall: How The E-memory Revolution Will Change Everything.” Worth a dedicated listen as opposed to listening while working on something else: http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/09/e-memory-and-you

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