Online diaries: Reflections on trust, privacy, and exhibitionism

  • Paul B. de LaatEmail author
Open Access


Trust between transaction partners in cyberspace has come to be considered a distinct possibility. In this article the focus is on the conditions for its creation by way of assuming, not inferring trust. After a survey of its development over the years (in the writings of authors like Luhmann, Baier, Gambetta, and Pettit), this mechanism of trust is explored in a study of personal journal blogs. After a brief presentation of some technicalities of blogging and authors’ motives for writing their diaries, I try to answer the question, ‘Why do the overwhelming majority of web diarists dare to expose the intimate details of their lives to the world at large?’ It is argued that the mechanism of assuming trust is at play: authors simply assume that future visitors to their blog will be sympathetic readers, worthy of their intimacies. This assumption then may create a self-fulfilling cycle of mutual admiration. Thereupon, this phenomenon of blogging about one’s intimacies is linked to Calvert’s theory of ‘mediated voyeurism’ and Mathiesen’s notion of ‘synopticism’. It is to be interpreted as a form of ‘empowering exhibitionism’ that reaffirms subjectivity. Various types of ‘synopticon’ are distinguished, each drawing the line between public and private differently. In the most ‘radical’ synopticon blogging proceeds in total transparency and the concept of privacy is declared obsolete; the societal gaze of surveillance is proudly returned and nullified. Finally it is shown that, in practice, these conceptions of blogging are put to a severe test, while authors often have to cope with known people from ‘real life’ complaining, and with ‘trolling’ strangers.


blogs diaries exhibitionism panopticism privacy surveillance synopticism trust voyeurism 


Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


All websites mentioned, in both text and references, were last visited on 1 February 2008.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2008

Open AccessThis is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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