Privacy, Free Speech, and 'Blurry-Edged' Social Networks

30 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2009 Last revised: 28 Feb 2014

Date Written: November 1, 2009


Much of Internet-related scholarship over the past ten years has focused on the enormous benefits that come from eliminating intermediaries and allowing user generated one-to-many (one person to many people) communications. Many commentators have noted the tension created between the positive benefits for free speech and the negative effects on user privacy. This tension has been exacerbated by technologies that permit users to create social networks with “blurry edges” - places where they post information generally intended for a small network of friends and family, but which is left available to the whole world to access. The thought is that someone the user cannot identify a priori might find the information interesting or useful. These technological advances have created enormous benefits as people connect to each other and build communities online. The technology that enables these communities, however, also creates an illusion of privacy and control that the law fails to recognize. This Article discusses the technological, social, and legal regimes that have created this framework, and proposes a technical solution to permit users to maintain networks with blurry edges while still appropriately balancing speech and privacy concerns.

Keywords: privacy, free speech, internet, new media

Suggested Citation

Gelman, Lauren Amy, Privacy, Free Speech, and 'Blurry-Edged' Social Networks (November 1, 2009). Boston College Law Review, Vol. 50, No. 5, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Lauren Amy Gelman (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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