Regulating Gossip

Did you know that people gossip about you? You don’t know who they are, or what they say, and sometimes they say things that (you think) are not true. Important decisions, like whether you get invited to parties, recommended for jobs, or even married, hang on such gossip. Yet there is almost no regulation of it! Government officials don’t track it, or check it for accuracy. There are no standards for what sources people can use in gossip, or how they state their opinions. You aren’t even notified when people gossip about you. Gossip is a virtually impenetrable system in which people, particularly the most vulnerable, have little insight into the forces shaping their welfare. We must have reform!

Sound over the top? Consider:

Information … comes from thousands of everyday transactions that many people do not realize are being tracked: auto warranties, cellphone bills and magazine subscriptions. It includes purchases of prepaid cards and visits to payday lenders and rent-to-own furniture stores. It knows whether your checks have cleared and scours public records for mentions of your name. Pulled together, the data follow the life of your wallet far beyond what exists in the country’s three main credit bureaus. [Firms sell] that information for a profit to lenders, landlords and even health-care providers. …

Who is worthy of credit? The answer increasingly lies in the “fourth bureau” — companies such as L2C that deal in personal data once deemed unreliable. … Federal regulations do not always require companies to disclose when they share your financial history or with whom, and there is no way to opt out when they do. No standard exists for what types of data should be included in the fourth bureau or how it should be used. No one is even tracking the accuracy of these reports. That has created a virtually impenetrable system in which consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, have little insight into the forces shaping their financial futures. (more)

The consequences of ordinary gossip are just as big as with firm gossip on customer finance. And it would be possible to have stronger regulations on ordinary gossip. Yes such regulations couldn’t be perfectly enforced, but then neither can regulations on firm finance gossip. The main reason we don’t have such regulations is that people dislike them. The same people who may well support more regulation on firm gossip on your finances. Why?

It seems to come down to the usual: we are more willing to regulate firms than individuals, and to regulate activity where money is involved than other activity.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL:
  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Why would it be possible to have stronger regulations on ordinary gossip? You yourself have noted that big businesses are easier to regulate than individuals/households, and in order to make a business on this info companies have somewhat formalized it.

    • http://lesswrong.com/user/Jayson_Virissimo Jayson Virissimo

      Why would it be possible to have stronger regulations on ordinary gossip?

      I think he means we could have stronger regulation on ordinary gossip than we currently have, not that we could have stronger regulation of ordinary gossip than “firm gossip”.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    It seems to come down to the usual: we are more willing to regulate firms than individuals, and to regulate activity where money is involved than other activity.

    So? There are perfectly sound and rather obvious reasons for why this is the case.

    Probably the best way to think about this stuff is in terms of public and private spheres of activity, with a somewhat vague and moveable boundary between them. The public sphere is much more subject to regulation than the private sphere. The law since the civil rights era has held that businesses are in generall part of the public sphere even if they are privately owned, so they can’t (eg) practice racial discrimination. But nobody suggests that you can’t be bigoted in your choice of private dinner guests.

    • Tyrrell McAllsiter

      Probably the best way to think about this stuff is in terms of public and private spheres of activity, with a somewhat vague and moveable boundary between them.

      Robin is calling into question the motivations behind this boundary. He is asking whether we are honest with ourselves about why we created such a boundary and place it where we do.

      • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

        Robin is calling into question the motivations behind this boundary. He is asking whether we are honest with ourselves about why we created such a boundary and place it where we do.

        No he’s not. He’s mystifying it by implying that it is based on an irrational prejudice against money and business.

        I don’t know that it helps to say that “we created such a boundary”. That particular distinction is a very fundamental part of how our culture works, and probably how all cultures work although they draw the boundary differently. It would be hard to imagine a humn society without such a boundary.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Robin hasn’t explicitly said it is irrational, but he has said the reasons given are few and/or weak. To a rationalist that may be a damning indictment, but many strains of conservative thought deny that we need to understand social institutions in order to continue supporting them. They could even make the Hansonian/Sperberesque argument that rationalism leads to excessive reliance on the highly fallible “far-mode”.

  • Psychohistorian

    “Yes such regulations couldn’t be perfectly enforced, but then neither can regulations on firm finance gossip.”

    I suppose massively understating and then handwaving away the obvious, pretty much complete explanation is better than ignoring it entirely. But not much. Oh, see also: the goddamn Constitution.

    I was going to spell out why this is a completely useless idea from a practical matter. But you’re the one proposing an idea. What would a relatively enforceable regulation on gossip look like? Would it be cost-justifiable? Constitutional?

    If you could actually propose a *specific* law that would be effective that people would not support, that might actually be insightful.

  • Tyrrell McAllsiter

    But you’re the one proposing an idea. What would a relatively enforceable regulation on gossip look like? Would it be cost-justifiable? Constitutional?

    Why do you believe that Robin is advocating that we regulate gossip?

    • Tyrrell McAllsiter

      This was supposed to be a reply to Psychohistorian.

  • Tyrrell McAllsiter

    It seems to come down to the usual: we are more willing to regulate firms than individuals, and to regulate activity where money is involved than other activity.

    Surely a stronger factor is that we are more willing to regulate other people than ourselves.

    Almost all people believe that they gain from being able to gossip, even if they lose from other people gossiping. Gossip is one of the tools in their own tool chest.

    In contrast, very few people see themselves as gaining from being able to track financial data about other people. That’s just not something that they see themselves as doing, so they don’t see proposed regulations of data-sharing as a threat to take away something in their own tool chest.

  • Aaron Armitage

    Regulations on “finance gossip” would fall on artificial persons, and only apply to real people at the margins and in a setting where we’re used to being bossed around. Regulations on regular gossip would be extremely intrusive into every aspect of the lives of pretty much all real people.

    Or like someone else said, there are very good reasons for regulating businesses more heavily than humans.

  • http://theslittyeye.wordpress.com theslittyeye

    There is really no need for more rigid regulations on ban of gossips of whatsoever. There’s only one magic word: TRANSPARENCY

    In order to regulate gossiping, it is much more effective to lift up the level of transparency in the public and private sectors, especially in financing. Governance also needs higher level of transparency so that it could build a trusty relations with the governed ones and in return ensure the healthy and optimal performance of the governance system.

    A higher level of transparency is better than 10 rigid bans and regulations.

    Transparency down to the individual level is called smooth communication. A well-informed communication among individuals would naturally eliminate the spread of gossips.

    • Buck Farmer

      Completely agree. I particularly like the possible apocryphal Dutch practice of doing whatever you want in your home without blinds, and people studiously not seeing what you’re doing via your windows.

      Seems to carve Mill’s public / private sphere more where I’d like it to be, then current American culture.

      • http://theslittyeye.wordpress.com theslittyeye

        Privacy ought to be respected, based on mutual understanding and good communication system. I am strictly referring to the governance field. A well-established governance system needs high level of transparency so that rumors and gossips could be immediately falsified without further escalation. That’s something unaccepted in the American culture, as many people are extremely defensive of individual rights and privacy over collective duty and obligations.

    • Doug S.
  • Buck Farmer

    Caring about gossip is low status, signals that you are on the outside, poorly informed, not influential, or vulnerable to group censure.

    Not caring about gossip indicates either that you are in control of the group or are sufficiently powerful independent of the group that they can’t harm you.

    However, this is counterbalanced by the real risk to your livelihood of not having control of collective opinion i.e. gossip.

    How do you explain the difference between near vs. far regulation of gossip?

    Conjecture:

    1. Signalling by not caring about gossip is only useful within your own tribe, since these are your potential allies and mates.

    2. Consumers perceive business as being in a separate (and often opposing) tribe — Chinese culture is filled with sayings and stories about how all merchants are liars, people feel that mixing profance (money) and sacred (organ donation) is taboo, et cetera.

    3. An opposing tribe is not a useful source of allies or mates. Their secrets are only a threat.

    There’s my guess.

    • http://theslittyeye.wordpress.com theslittyeye

      “Chinese culture is filled with sayings and stories about how all merchants are liars”

      That’s not gossip. Chinese culture has long downplayed the importance of merchants in favor of agriculture. The recent disdain on the merchants in China has a lot to do with the dissatisfaction of current merchandise quality in China.

      Either way, there’s no need to regulate the gossip. All you need to do is to increase the transparency and maintain smooth communication to build a trustworthy system

    • http://www.marketingeconomist.com Peter St. Onge

      @buck,

      Not sure gossip-production and consumption is automatically low status. When low status people do it, we call it “gossip.” When high-status do it, it’s called reputation, taking a man’s measure, etc.

      Personally, my guess is the business vs non-business distinction is more about presumed motivation than tribes per se.

      Like you, just guessing.

  • jva

    So we have an institutionalized reputation market. Eventually it will just sell positive reputation to people on the margin and those that were put near the margin by their own inacurate data. I wonder, what will the incentives be for them…

  • Jason

    This may be an interesting way to look at it … there are two regulatory frameworks: an explicit (laws governing human behavior) and an implicit (normal modes of human behavior).

    Gossip seems to be the enforcement mechanism of the implicit regulatory framework. It makes sure you pay your share when you split the check or don’t mistreat your spouse. The explicit regulatory framework has fines and jail and disbarment. Credit ratings seem to be in the area between these two frameworks. Regulating gossip damages a functioning system. It would be like firing the police. However regulations that mitigate the “market failures” would be a good idea.

    Aside: Social tolerance in the implicit framework can be seen as an analog to deregulation in the explicit framework.

  • OhioStater

    Fertile women are wary of “out-group” men. Slightly off-topic, but more:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/strange-science-menstruat_n_886815.html

    This has implications in coed dorm housing, whether birth control pills regulate discrimination, and maybe even the emergence of different types of discrimination as more women rise to power in corporations and politics.

    I remember a previous study that argued women are wary of different races at peak fertility, but this one goes further to suggest that masculinity and musculature compound the problem, polarizing if you will, valued in in-group men, but feared in out-group men. An out-group male may be better off opportunity-wise as a beta male.

    This study also suggests that women discriminate in similar fashion based on arbitrary distinctions like shirt color. I can imagine one function of gossip is “us” or “not-us”.

  • http://www.marketingeconomist.com Peter St. Onge

    I argued (poorly) on FB that the snapshot we see today may simply represent the output of a competent group of individual regulatory entrepreneurs. This doesn’t mean these are eternal distinctions. Indeed, we are seeing the first green shoots of personal gossip regulation eg anti-discrimination laws, anti-bullying rules, and lawsuit awards for damaged esteem.

    I other words, are we simply looking at 2 regulatory business plans, one of which is further along because it was pushed by a more-competent team? Is this like asking why humans prefer to search using quasi-numeric terms like Google and not with Spanish-sounding words like Altavista?