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Devil's Advocate: Do public figures have a right to privacy?


Flipping through the trashy gossip magazines, news channels of inflated social issues, and ditzy talk-show hosts engaging audiences with muddled divorce drama fresh off the press: nearly every person on the planet has witnessed the invasion of a public figure’s privacy. And regardless of whether or not we find ourselves fans of the latest victim of a public scandal, or media update, or exposé, one thing tends to be inherently clear — violations of privacy feel wrong. Because if successful individuals with money and power can have their rights to privacy violated, where exactly is the line drawn?


The careers of politicians, actors, TV personalities, musicians, and writers all cater to the public. In fact, they rely on the public’s opinion. But what about their job justifies their private lives to be aired out over any other career field? By denying celebrities, and individuals of great or notorious success, the right to live their lives privately, we diminish their status as humans — the very rights that we all expect to possess. And while some public figures anticipate the social desire for insight into their private lives, or in some cases seek out attention from the general public and media, many of these individuals do not. It’s inane that strangers, or as we know them, “paparazzi” — whose sole purpose of work is to stalk, photograph, and “expose” the life of public figures — are not only legally allowed to act in such a manner, but are also paid exorbitant sums of money to do so.


Often, the invasion of these public figures' privacy, and subsequent publication of found information, tends to be drastically biassed, rooted in perpetuating themes of sexism, racism, and xenophobia. Take Johnny Depp’s and Amber Heard’s publicly-aired defamation trial in the US. Even without any specific knowledge of the jury selection, previous judiciary rulings, or Heard’s many legal attempts to not publicise the trial, any base level of analysis can see that this was not so much a legal trial as a trial in the public court of opinion. A trial that raided both public figure’s lives — but one certain individual’s much more than the other. 

Aside from a tragic portrayal of society’s unwavering willingness to question and debase female victims of domestic and sexual abuse, this case showed the power of the media in producing public personal information that should not be so easily accessed. Whether or not this situation was clear-cut is not the debate here. But what is clear is that the case stands as an example of the deliberate exploitation of a public figure’s right to privacy, in order to shape the public opinion of a situation to financially and socially profit from such a “scandal”.


Perhaps if the argument for such invasions of privacy leaned on the morality of exposing public figures wrongdoings, rather than as justifying opportunity for cheap money-grabbing, it would have stronger pull. But it isn’t. Thus, it’s high time we advocate for stronger privacy and paparazzi laws. For if we as common individuals can request privacy, we should afford others the same courtesy. 

In an as non-patronizing manner as possible, when it comes to privacy, we should follow the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   


Open any social media, magazine, or newspaper, and you will see countless people showering you with details on their life — kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, actors, singers, and influencers, the list goes on. These public figures seem to want everyone to know who they are, what they think, what they’re doing, and where they’ve been: it’s an epidemic of oversharing. Do these people, whose lives revolve around being the subject of public attention, have a right to privacy? Don’t be ridiculous: they cannot expect to benefit from the cult of celebrity without giving up some of their privacy.

I can sympathise with the odd actress who does what she does for the love of the craft and not for celebrity and finds herself stripped of much of her privacy. The same goes for the politician who enters public service with honourable motives, and ends up in the same situation. Perhaps few of the little princes or princesses of the world were ever even given the choice of any privacy. However, at the risk of sounding a bit harsh and uncaring: public figures have to suck it up and accept the fact that privacy is simply not something which is compatible with their lifestyle.

The simple fact is that interest in public figures benefits them very directly, and public figures both know and use that fact. Politicians and leaders are aware of how important the public perception of them is, so they spend their time constructing an image of themselves for the public to see. They get to do photo-ops in hospitals, pose with their picture-perfect families, and try to awkwardly relate to ordinary people to demonstrate how easygoing and open they are. People famous for their talents — singers, actors, sports players, and the like — need to be relevant to be hired and progress in their careers, regardless of any passion they may have for their craft. They therefore go on press tours, give interviews, walk the red carpet, and post on social media, in order to cultivate that attention. Another category — perhaps the one which most flagrantly sacrifices its privacy — are influencers and “content creators”. Their entire career revolves around marketing themselves in a certain way, in being accessible to the public, and in making the public care about them. 

All public figures depend upon public attention, and they invite it. Not only does this self-inflicted attention mean a restriction of their privacy, but it also means yielding more influence and power the more famous they become. In turn, this power and influence exposes them to understandable, and legitimate, public scrutiny. Public figures understand all of this. They know what they have to do, and what they have to give, in order to maintain their place: they know the rules and play the game.

Public figures owe their livelihoods and their existence to public attention, and therefore to the sacrifice of their privacy. In exchange, they get celebrity, acquire power, earn money, and obtain status. They have a choice: accept the trade-off, or leave the public eye, lose the celebrity, power, money, and status. Isn’t it odd that so few do…

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