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Privacy in a social world

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.

Constantly evolving

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.


  • Maria @amotherworld

    January 17, 2013., 3:39 pm / Reply

    As my kids get older, I do think more about their privacy... I don't share much at all about them anymore. I wrote a post about privacy some time ago: As for me, well there are some things I just won't talk about and never will. I don't do FourSquare either!

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 5:52 pm / Reply

      I don't use FourSquare either. I have other ways to connect with those I would like to see. And yes, it seems many parents are slowing down on writing about their kids as the years go on. Interesting how that perspective changes. Off to read your post!

    • Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments

      January 17, 2013., 5:53 pm / Reply

      Maria - I don't get FourSquare at all. No interest in doing it either.

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 5:56 pm / Reply

      Great post you've linked to above, and good questions posed.

  • Ariane Griffiths

    January 17, 2013., 3:59 pm / Reply

    I am very cognoscente about what I put online - That said, I also share a lot online. It's a fine line I think.. one that you need to think about EVERY time you post something :s Great read! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 5:22 pm / Reply

      Yes, if we are mindful, it is not the amount that is shared that becomes an issue. If each opportunity is weighed carefully, then likely the overall picture is fine. Thanks for reading, and commenting.

  • @ParentClub

    January 17, 2013., 4:24 pm / Reply

    My take is: I made a decided choice to particpate in social media so I will share my experiences. My kids, husband, parents, and friends - do not opt in just because I have a twitter addy - thus their experiences are private. Share what you own only.

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 5:39 pm / Reply

      What a great perspective, and a useful tip for those trying to make their own way on this path. A great guideline. Thank you for sharing. ; )

      • EliseOndet

        January 18, 2013., 12:20 pm / Reply

        I am pretty much on the same path, Caroline. However, this is still hard to balance. Eg I shared recently that we wanted to go to XXX this XXX (and I talked season, not month) on Twitter, and my husband got a bit mad. He doesn't want me to share anything that impacts him. That means almost everything that's happening in my life :)

  • Candace Alper

    January 17, 2013., 5:13 pm / Reply

    Ah. I think about this a lot too. Actually I think about it almost each time I post. I'm in a unique situation where both my husband and daughter are actively engaged online. The rule I have set for myself, is one that I would expect them to uphold as well. I wouldn't post anything about them that they would not post about themselves. With respect to my daughter blogging, we talk a lot about what information and stories are good to share and which ones aren't. We don't get overly personal. We don't share things that we wouldn't want shared beyond our circle. We don't share about bad days or experiences ~ these things pass and so do our feelings about them. Our words online remain. I think that the biggest thing to always keep in mind social media is that the same rules apply that we commit to offline - treat others as you want to be treated, only share your own stories, choose your words carefully, think before you speak. That's my guide.

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 5:21 pm / Reply

      Love your answer, and am pleased to have your thoughts noted here. As you say, your situation is different because your whole family knowingly participates in social media. And yet, you still govern the sharing to be sure you all leave behind is good, as much as possible. Thanks for your thoughts. ; )

      • Candace Alper

        January 17, 2013., 5:39 pm / Reply

        The general rule is Mindful. It's not up to me to talk about Hannah's struggles with her studies, friends or health - even if it's about how I feel about those things or how her dealing with those things affects me. The same goes for Eric. I am also mindful because we are here for business as much as we are for pleasure and what we say and do here about ourselves or each other affects our reputation and perception. All of this is where we also get into the lines that get blurred with 'those' words - authenticity and transparency. I do really think that you can be me mindful and authentic at the same time. Gah! I sound like a publicist ;)

        • Jen Taylor

          January 17, 2013., 5:48 pm / Reply

          No, you sound aware and wise. Good things. I agree with you. I have had the thought that at some point I would like to take what I have written about each kid and give them each a printed version - a small printed photo book sort of project. It will be theirs to read and remember, and I want it filled with truth - yet, I know how I am with words. If I hear them or read them, I will remember them. Possibly forever if I can reread them and they are important. For that reason, and so many others, I want each post to ring true - and also ring gently, and kindly. And as far as business is concerned, I agree fully.

      • Candace Alper

        January 17, 2013., 6:08 pm / Reply

        I love that idea of presenting your posts about them to them. It is as much a reminder for you as it is a sketch of their life - and yours. I wanted to add something - I always come back to this. I think that it's important to remember that the online space that we use to communicate should be treated with the same mindfulness. I think that before we publish a blog post, we read, proof-read and then re-read. We measure our words, we carefully weigh each one. I think of other platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even comments on other peoples blogs, in the same way. Together they are the digital footprint that we make. Ok, with that, I think I'm done ;)

  • Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments

    January 17, 2013., 5:52 pm / Reply

    Such a big topic for me. I swore I would never share anything that would enable someone to find me IRL which we all know means you might as well not be on social media at all. Now I'm still VERY protective about my children's privacy by not sharing full-face pictures or their names online but even that with my eldest daughter's dance/performance opportunities is becoming difficult. I think I'm evolving and I'm going with my gut and questioning constantly. Great conversation Jen!

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 5:59 pm / Reply

      This is exactly what I mean by "evolving". As our lives change, as our time online goes on, as our kids age, we need to adjust, evolve, shift. It's not something to decide and shelve. I really feel it's something to revisit often.

  • Katja

    January 17, 2013., 6:36 pm / Reply

    I began on social media quietly, without a last name and only a blurry image. As time has passed, and with the realization that I choose to be here as a writer, I've opened up. My name and face are visible. Though I write about my family's escapades I choose to use aliases for them. I'm also looking to the future and to their right to live with privacy during all the mistakes they will, and should make as they grow up. My photographs are now more guarded, though on my personal Facebook page I share pictures and names freely. I've chosen to keep closer control over that form of social media. I'm comfortable with the choices I've made though I evaluate them often. Excellent post and questions to pose ourselves.

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 11:06 pm / Reply

      Thank you for reading and commenting - I think our approach has been very similar, and likely our circumstance with regard to writing. Great point that you are comfortable but evaluate often. YES. ; )

  • Shelagh Krause

    January 17, 2013., 6:56 pm / Reply

    I struggle with this too, especially having been raised in a very security oriented household (the curse of being raised by a military policeman). Also because I am in an industry (real estate, for your readers who don't know me) that is constantly pushing us to have a personal online presence. So I have to draw a line for both my personal social media boundary and my proffessional one. In both cases my guideline is this: Don't post anything that you wouldn't be comfortable having on the front page (or website!) of the National Post. That comfort level will differ for all of us... With the way social media is evolving, our current concept of "privacy" will soon be a thing of the past.

    • Jen Taylor

      January 17, 2013., 11:10 pm / Reply

      I think real estate has always had aspects of this issue - even before social media was stirred into the mix. For years we have seen photos of realtors' families, we've gotten updates and letters or seen holiday wishes with kids' names and other details. Realtors have always been encouraged/pressured to share their lives in ways I don't think other professionals are. I can imagine now it is an even bigger concern. Great point that a comfort level might be different for each of us. I agree. And yes to the National Post! When people start getting into social media, especially Twitter, I always say this: assume that your boss, your future boss, your spouse, your future spouse, your MIL or future MIL, and kids or future kids will see what you write. Because at some point, they absolutely could. ; )


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