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The Threat to Nonfiction in the Digital Age

No, this is not a serious academic treatise detailing the legal ramifications of libel and slander, copyright and moral rights, or defamation as such. Rather, I come at it from the dilemma of one engaged in frequent travel, blogging back to a select few (~65) friends  about my experiences around the world, including the people I met along the way. Stories of friends and fellow tourists alike pose the difficulty inherent in digital transparency: how to render fairly, or at all, when reactions of inaccuracy or inappropriateness of sharing are inevitable?

With Facebook and other social media now so ubiquitous, it becomes a practical problem to write about one’s own life (traveling or not), when any of the real-life characters you may write about are likely to read it or are linked to someone who will. Changing or leaving out names can help but does not ensure anonymity for those in one’s known network. So asking permission is a good solution if there is any risk of offending someone portrayed in print.

Some would object even to sharing one’s own outer and inner journey in public. I don’t mind feeding myself into that hopper, grist for the mill. I do balk, however, at reporting incidents involving people I know, or even restaurateurs or hostel managers who may find themselves Googled over to my observations one way or another.

privacyThe result of these novel inhibitions is to filter the creative lens; even, potentially, to put actual interpersonal experience off limits to nonfictional reportage—unless officialized by the interview mode, the waiver form, or by changing personal details “to protect the innocent” (as well as the guilty).

When we go down the road of Creative Nonfiction, we have an insurance policy whereby details of presentation are a matter of choice, and even of invention. If we care too much about matters of accuracy and transparency, however, our cold feet will likely lead us on a different path. That one leads to the promised land of creative freedom, but a land of exile from “what really happened”: the land of fiction.

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