Genres for the Digital Hangover

On: November 11, 2013
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About Bart Schoenmakers


As boundaries between the private and public sphere are beginning to blur. It is getting harder and harder to keep private content private. Most of the times nothing major happens when you send out a personal message into the public sphere. Most of the times the terms and conditions of the online services we use do not invade our personal lives. But sometimes it can result into dismay or distress.

In a earlier post on the Masters of Media Blog entitled ‘Digital Hangovers: Capturing an Emergent New Media Phenomenon through DigitalObservatory‘ the term “digital hangovers” was described as a phenomenon that  raises many issues around privacy, ownership, memory and access. Using this term, it must be set apart from the drunk dialing phenomenon as the digital hangover has nothing to do with the consumption of alcohol although drunkenness can often lead to events that cause digital hangovers.

Digital hangovers are the result of overusing online services, being continuously connected through mobile devices and creating digital content to the extent that one loses sight of the implications of this abuse. That is not until it is too late, hence the name digital hangover. These “unexpected” consequences of digital and connected media usage can cause feelings of regret, shame and even anxiety.

This blog post sets out to start to set apart different genres that begin to surface within what we describe as digital hangovers.  It will not go into details specific cases although they are cited to illustrate the specific genre. One key aspect of these genres is that they are specific to the devices and networks we use.

Digital vigilantism

Images of the Dog Poop Girl video

Korean Dog Poop Girl. The incident occurred in a Korean subway train in 2005, a young woman did not act after her dog defecated in the metro car. Not only was the incident videotaped and posted online, also her identity was made public. The mass public shaming had dramatic consequences for the young woman who dropped out of college and wrote a public message of apology and asked to be left alone.

Digital vigilantism also occurs in online events when private messages that were not intended for a large audience are “hijacked” and disseminated.

Private/public messages

Riots surrounding the Project X party in Haren

A small setting can have major effects. People who didn’t add ‘DM’ for a private tweet or, didn’t set a Facebook event as private when they should. Sometimes small actions have major effects. A case well known in the Netherlands, is the project X Haren affair in 2012 it triggered a nationwide public debate. A girl wanted to celebrate her sweet 16 party with friends and made a public Facebook invite, so friends could bring friends. This got out of hand and the police made 34 arrest that night the damages ran over the over € 1,000,000.-.


The outlook was epic, the outcome not so much. Sticks and stones might break one’s bones, but public embarrassment will hurt much longer. Although similar to the genre of digital vigilantism there is one major difference. Whether it is a failed stunt on a skateboard or public rejection, in most (if not all) cases the protagonists in these videos where out to get attention. In many ways it resembles tv-shows like ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos and more specifically Comedy Central’s “web-focussed” Tosh.0.

If you don’t have anything good to say

Some opinions are best kept to yourself, think it over before you post. This genre is very much related to the #fail genre. The major difference here is that there remarks are more likely to be of an  inflammatory or discriminatory nature or just plain dumb. This was the case with Trisha Paytas, who posed the question, ‘Do dogs have brains?’ to her Twitter followers. The reactions were not supportive to say the least and mainly portray her as stupid and make fun at her for obvious reasons.

Small print

Terms and conditions can come back to get you. Although your search history and the terms and conditions you agreed upon might seem harmless. They can have major consequences in real life. Information someone shares online might be used in criminal investigation. In the 2013 documentary “terms and conditions may apply” examples were used to illustrate that privacy online is a very problematic issue. From finding out that your teenage daughter is pregnant through her search behavior to being retained at the airport and denied access to a country over a misinterpreted tweet.

Next steps

These genres as they are described here are probably not comprehensive but serve as a good starting point to further develop these genres and adds to our vocabulary some terms we can use when describing privacy issues in online media. This attempt to a genre classification is important because it allows for an indexation of the digital hangover. It is one step towards finding ways to deal with public embarrassment in the online mediated world. The next step would be to find strategies to resolve these issues surrounding digital hangovers.

Recent events regarding the Max Mosley court case proves that real solutions can not be found in our contemporary legal system. Through the online services we use our lives become more and more transparent and through the opaque terms and conditions these services provide our privacy is in jeopardy.  There will always be friction between the public and the private domain as long as we exchange information with eachother. These genres allow for further investigation on strategies on how one should deal with these clashes between privacy and the public domain.


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