Thursday, September 23, 2010

Privacy is an illusion

The Internet has made it so easy for us to publish our thoughts, opinions and ideas to all & sundry. So much so that many people don't think twice before they send out something, as in the guy who was found guilty of a crime for jokingly tweeting that he would blow an airport up.

The airport was closed due to snow, and he was frustrated. I might have said the same thing myself -- how many times have I said things like, "I'm going to strangle that guy!"? We all say things like these and don't mean it. But the thing is, we say these things verbally to people who know us and who therefore take our words in the spirit in which they're meant. Too many people forget that what they put on the internet is public -- accessible to the whole wide world. They forget that not everyone is going to place a generous or kind interpretation on what they say.

I think this is partially due to Facebook. Somehow Facebook has given us this feeling that if we put something online, we're saying it to our circle of friends & acquaintances... Facebook has made us feel safe to reveal ourselves, to say whatever we want in the belief that others will understand & forgive accordingly. But if your status updates (or the status updates you're commenting on) aren't private, guess what? You'd better be careful or you'll end up on

In any case, Facebook's not totally to blame. In general, people seem to be much less restrained when it comes to writing things on the Internet. When blogging was all the rage I used to see bloggers insisting, "It's my blog, so I can write whatever I like." True enough, but whatever gave you the idea that exercising your right to write whatever you like carries no consequences?

Blogging taught me that yes, you can say whatever you like because it's your story, your experiences, or your opinion, but the other side of the coin is you have to be responsible for what you say. I treated my blog sort of like a diary, writing about my joys & sorrows, achievements & frustrations, but then my mom read it and complained that I was making her sound like a terrible mother, and I felt guilty... one part of me thought it was my right to talk about how I felt, it wasn't like I was writing to vilify her or anything like that... on the other hand, I also understood her wish for privacy and I wondered if maybe I didn't have the right to say things like that publicly, to talk about the struggles and difficulties we faced within the family.

These days I'm a lot more circumspect (in addition to blogging under a pseudonym!). A number of times I've written a tweet and found my finger hovering over the 'enter' key as I reconsidered the wisdom of sending the tweet out. If I'm venting... or I think someone might misinterpret what I say and possibly use it against me... or I think I'm just writing it to get attention... then I often don't send it. The same with blog posts; I have a number of drafts written that I eventually decided not to publish.

In this day & age I think we all have to be a little more careful what we place online. People used to say that we ought to pay attention to grooming and carry ourselves well in order to create a good first impression; but nowadays a lot of first impressions are created in cyberspace, through nothing more than the various bits of text we've left floating out there. A good rule of thumb: You should never place anything online that you wouldn't want certain people to see. Even if your Facebook account is private, one of your contacts could take a screenshot and email it around; on the Web, there's no such thing as absolute privacy anymore. If you want it to be private, keep it off the Web!

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