Murdoch, News of the World, and Jealous Girlfriends: The Politics of Phone Hacking

We’ve learned that it’s off-limits to media moguls, but what about curious significant others?

By , Columnist

In the past few weeks, large-scale discovery and confirmation of the unforgivable sin of phone hacking has brought both men and media entities crashing down. Despite attempts at damage control, Brit Rupert Murdoch’s worldwide news empire is crumbling. The scandal has also chewed up and spat out the careers of several of his most prominent employees - Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s British lieutenant, and Les Hinton, publisher of the Wall Street Journal - in addition to, most recently, the deputy commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, John Yates. Yikes, right?

Of course, hacking in to the phones of celebrities, politicians, murdered young women, and other newsworthy figures has been deemed unethical, unpardonable, and downright unbelievable. But it’s worth asking: how far does the blasphemous nature of looking into someone else’s social media life extend? Is it okay to take a peek at a boyfriend’s emails when he leaves his account open, scan through your girlfriend’s texts while she’s in the restroom, or “guess” the right password to take an inside look at their Facebook account?

I was raised in a very privacy-conscious household. I usually ask before opening drawers, doors, or cabinets in others’ homes; I close the door when I pee; and I feel a bit uncomfortable even if someone asks me to dig through her purse to find something. To me, respecting others’ privacy is a way of cultivating trust - saying, true, I don’t know what’s behind this door, for instance, but I trust your judgment that it’s not something I need to know about (like a nunchuck-wielding ninja who wants desperately to maim me) and will therefore not walk through the door just for the hell of it.

And what’s so hard about maintaining that trust is that breaking it is so damned easy. One push of a button, a tiny bit of scrolling . . . and poof! Knowledge. But just because we have the technology to easily take a walk in someone else’s social shoes doesn’t mean we should always use it.

True, when you’re not an uber-powerful media mogul, there’s no law against taking a wee peek into someone else’s life. But the bottom line is, what the law doesn’t cover, your personal ethics must.

Whenever the Murdoch in you tempts you to spy, Golden Rule the situation: would you want someone else doing the same thing to you?

If the answer’s no (and it usually is), it’s time to put down the phone, step away from the computer, take a deep breath, and figure out how else to get the info you want. After all, guilty consciences often want to be relieved, so sometimes the best way to get to the root of a problem (and avoid shooting your relationship in the foot in case there isn't actually a problem) is to do something really simple: ask!

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Emmie Scott is an English major-turned-marketing exec, with a passion for writing, humor, sharing knowledge, and "pink drinks." After hours, she started Are Toe Rings Professional Attire?, a blog for college grads and twenty-somethings looking to find their way through that daunting labyrinth called…

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