Those of us who live with one foot in an online world, and one foot firmly grounded in real life will eventually spend time thinking about privacy.
And if you haven’t already, you will now, yes?
How do you manage your privacy online?
Perhaps you worried about it when first getting online. You guarded your real name, your location, your personal details carefully. Then as time went on, you made connections that turned personal and you began to share more.
Alternatively, perhaps you were the person that dove into social media with little thought to what it might mean or become. How would anyone ever find you in a sea of so many people? Then as time went on, you realized just how much you had shared, and how far that information may have gone.
I was in the first group, in the beginning. No last name, no personal photo, no location. I was careful, aware that I had no control over which eyes might see what I shared. And in the beginning, it worked fine. I still made connections, I was able to create a network, but that anonymity came with an expiry date. I didn’t see it coming, but perhaps six months into being active on Twitter, I submitted my first two pieces of writing for publication. And with them, I needed to include a short bio and a photo. I took an entire weekend to consider it before sending them in.
Now, more than three years later, I spend generous amounts of time online and share a great deal. I’m still careful on certain things, but my time spent online has brought me work I love, countless friends and and a warm, supportive network. And for this, I am willing to trade my time, and myself, to a degree.
The long reach of social media
What about privacy in a general sense? Are there people with whom you would rather not share your life? What to do about people from your long ago past, professional contacts, neighbours? This can also be a strange balance. While social media may allow us to connect with people who share our interests, our sense of humour, our motivations, it can also inadvertently share large amounts of information with people with whom we may not stay in touch, deliberately or offhandedly. This has happened to me, and while it can occasionally make you want to stop sharing, it can also be a good opportunity for reflection. If there is no issue of safety or security, are you losing anything by allowing this window into your life? If there is someone you don’t keep up with regularly, but with whom you share a connection, could this be a quiet way to open a window, just ever so slightly? After all, these are parts of your life you are sharing on the internet, with perfect strangers. Can you be generous enough to realize they may have meaning for others? With a quiet respect for those around us, can we make room for one another in this endless, and yet so crowded space?
Social media and kids
Let’s talk kids. Do you write, tweet, share about your kids? Photos, personal details, full names? Why or why not? These are things to consider as you continue to build a trail of information online. Those who share mostly family-friendly content might be more comfortable sharing personal details, but others who take pride in a caustic voice or irreverent tone might feel it more appropriate to keep kids’ names out of the limelight. Whatever our values, whatever our decisions, we need to be aware that we create a trail of cyber information for our families as much as we do ourselves. If our kids aren’t online now to read what we write, rest assured that they someday will be. I share stories of my kids, I share parenting thoughts, and yes, I will share my challenges. But I do so with an eye to the future – will this be a story that will embarrass my kids later on? Is there a name anywhere in the post that will cause the powers that be to scoop up the story and deliver it to every viewer that dares linger over their name in the future? What about photos? Should we be worried about sharing these online, knowing we don’t control where they end up? I don’t share much for photos of my kids, and nothing of their faces. Yet millions of others do with no repercussions – can either of us say we are right? It’s a comfort level. A look at my download history and what photos are being downloaded off my site without a single request for permission or breath of contact and I can tell you, I’m not budging.
The more time I spend online, the more time I spend thinking about privacy – and the more my thoughts on it evolve. I think there are times to be cautious, and times to relax and let go a little. But it never hurts to occasionally type your own name or your kids’ names into a search engine and see what pops up. What is your gut reaction? If you cringe, it’s time for some reflection. If you’re comfortable, you are probably fine. Just remember, the internet never forgets, so continue to be mindful. And always, in exchange for what you have been given, be respectful and gracious with those people you encounter online.
I’d love to know how you manage privacy online, and what it means to you. Do you share differently online now than you did in the beginning? Do you share differently on different social media channels, and why? What are your thoughts on social media and kids?
When it comes to privacy in a social world, what have you gained? What have you lost?
I would love to hear your thoughts, and stories.