Corporate Personhood: Savannah Dietrich and the Value of a Citizen

Posted on July 25, 2012


Savannah Dietrich, the seventeen-year-old Kentucky girl who faced jail time for tweeting the names of her rapists, was absolved of the contempt of court charges after a social media storm (although, according to her rapist’s lawyer “the decision to withdraw the motion had nothing to do with public sentiment and online attention to the case”). So we can all breath easy for now. At least this rape survivor will not be penalized for fighting back.

However this case does point to something askew in our culture: which citizens’ rights matter? Dietrich was almost jailed for divulging the names of her attackers (who were not shy about revealing their crime when showing the photos of the rape to friends shortly thereafter), however corporate citizen Facebook is allowed to spread all of its users’ information in a neat little profile to third parties. In fact, that’s what enables Facebook to be a corporation and, thus, and citizen.

Facebook attempts to ease its users’ minds by stating in the privacy terms that they “removed your name or any other personally identifying information from [your profile]” that they send to third parties. However the data in your personal Facebook graph includes all of your previous locations, IP addresses, birthdate, groups, and any information that your friends have shared about you. If a third party knows that I was born 9/22/1989, graduated from Goucher College in 2011, knows my computer’s identification number, and knows I belong to Women in Philosophy, then my name is pretty inconsequential.

My name is not the penultimate identifier of myself. All of my interests, friendships, photos, preferences, etc. culminate to make me. All of my information is “identifying information.” Because Facebook is a corporate person, with the right to life, it must be allowed to share my information. If I tell it no, I am damaging its health in a way.

The corporate person is allowed privileges that we of the flesh and bone could never get away with (just ask Jullian Assange). Yes, it is true that Savannah Dietrich shared identifying information about two boys who raped her  (Austin Zehender and Will Frey). But there is no reason why, if Facebook is allowed to operate on a business model of sharing almost all identifying information of its users with third parties to stay alive, that a rape survivor shouldn’t be allowed to divulge information that may help other women stay alive.

Posted in: Rape Culture