Dunn: Celebrities Deserve Privacy Too


Taylor Swift (Courtesy of taylorswiftweb.net)

By Auriana Dunn, Opinion Writer


On April 8, Entertainment Tonight reported that artist Taylor Swift had split from her boyfriend Joe Alwyn after six years. The news spread far and fast, with other prominent outlets, such as People Magazine and CNN, reporting the news. The couple has also started trending on social media, where fans have spread numerous unverified rumors trying to explain the split or prove it false.

Swift and Alwyn have previously made statements about how hard “intrusive culture” is on them. Fan reactions to their split are a prime example of this, with many grieving the breakup as if it were their own. Swift has historically maintained a relatable image and biographical music. However, this doesn’t entitle fans to every detail of her private life and breakup. While broad public recognition is a given, celebrities like Swift and Alwyn deserve to maintain private lives separate from their public involvement.

Privacy Rights

All Americans have rights to privacy under national law. The U.S. Privacy Act of 1974 gives all U.S. citizens the right to access the personal data kept by the government, and the right to know how the government uses that data. Likewise, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects citizens’ medical information. Last year, Utah enacted a comprehensive consumer privacy legislation. This legislation outlined data privacy responsibilities for companies working in Utah and allowed citizens the right to access and delete any personal data maintained by those companies.

Celebrities have these same general privacy rights, but the scope of protection for their personal lives is narrow. Some claim that celebrities have consented to publicity as a rationale to excuse intrusive behavior. As areas of public interest, celebrities become free game for the press to report on. However, celebrities like Swift just try to do their jobs, whether that be promoting films, sharing music, selling art or even promoting political campaigns. That doesn’t mean they consent to share the unrelated aspects of their lives with millions of strangers. Even biographical Swift rarely names those celebrities that inspire her work.

Celebrity Culture

Celebrities as we think of them are a relatively new thing. Historically, people have always put other people on pedestals, whether kings, philosophers or artists. Modern celebrity culture emerged during the 16th and 17th centuries, when printing presses allowed information to spread faster than ever before. As newspapers continued to increase, and with the introduction of television, public obsession with the social elite developed. In the mid-20th century, Hollywood movies allowed actors and actresses to become household names.

Our obsession with the social elite is likely due to the fact that humans are extremely social creatures. However, it can become extreme for people going through upheaval, such as divorce or losing a job. For some people in these circumstances, the “parasocial,” or one-sided, relationships with celebrities become an emotional crutch. These one-sided relationships both fuel and are fueled by paparazzi and tabloids. People feel like they know celebrities and feel entitled to the candid moments of their lives. In selling to this consumer base, paparazzi and tabloids often go too far.

Taken Too Far

Extreme public involvement in celebrities’ private lives can have disastrous outcomes. In the instance of Swift and Alwyn, they tried to keep their relationship extremely private. This didn’t spare them from the attention that comes with their status. Their relationship was initially revealed by a stalker-like paparazzi photo, and the couple endured countless false engagement rumors. Additionally, People Magazine reported that lack of privacy factored into the couple’s split. The magazine reported that a source close to the couple said that Alwyn struggled with the public attention that came from Swift’s level of fame.

Swift and Alwyn are one of many instances where public attention negatively impacts a celebrity’s life. In most cases, public attention comes with intense scrutiny from fans and critics alike. Fans with “good” parasocial relationships want to see more and more of celebrities’ lives, enabling paparazzi. Critics that dislike celebrities may develop bad parasocial relationships, which lead to hateful comments and messages and even jealousy towards celebrities. In an extreme instance, English musician John Lennon was killed by a man that was “angry and jealous” at how Lennon was living.

Celebrities have jobs that put them into the public eye and large fan bases that love them, but they deserve the same respect for privacy as the rest of us. With the expansion of social media, people can more closely interact with celebrities and maintain parasocial relationships. With social media, celebrities also have a lot more control over their image. But many have left social media because of the pressure and judgment they feel from others on the apps. Those celebrities that choose to keep their private lives off social media and out of the limelight deserve to have those boundaries respected as everyone else does.


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