Tag Archives: privacy

the scale of how we communicate online

From How to Fix Online Intimacy by Kyle Chayka for Pacific Standard Magazine:

Online exchanges that were once seen as too shallow to be authentic (we can’t have real relationships without face-to-face interaction, the critique goes) are now overwhelming in their volume and the degree to which they expose us to others… It’s not so much how we communicate online that has changed, but its scale.

Of course, I’ve never thought online interactions were shallow, and I’ve never thought you couldn’t have real relationships without face-to-face interaction. Maybe it’s because I’ve had long-distance friendships where old-fashioned postal letters and phone calls were how we communicated. Or maybe it’s because I just love the written word, and never think it’s somehow less intimate than having a live conversation (in fact, it can often be so much MORE intimate!). Still, I really liked this article because, for the most part, it reinforces my own feelings about online communications, which I’ve expressed on my blog, on my web site, and in workshops many times:

  1. online communications can be just as intense or personal as offline, face-to-face communications, and that’s both a blessing and curse,
  2. you need to think about your online activities in different personas, just as you do offline, and
  3. you DO have a lot of control your online interactions, how people perceive you online, and how you react to online perceptions.

Say you are a manager of volunteers. You don’t get to spend much time with individual volunteers, because you manage so many. But through social media, they learn you have a new dog, or that you ride a motorcycle on weekends, or that you weave – and perhaps that helps them relate to you more as a three-dimensional person, not just the person that schedules them to work and asks them to fill out program evaluations. That’s great! But then the downside: maybe a volunteer wants to go on a motorcycle ride together, or wants to meet up at the dog park – and you really don’t want to socialize with volunteers outside of work. Of course that’s a problem you can have even without social media, but the Internet makes such personal information MUCH easier to find and for communications outside of work to happen. That can be annoying at least and, at worst, creepy.

It’s not just comedians, movie stars and preachers that often have two different personas, one public for the audiences and the press, another for only very close family and friends. As I noted in my blog Why You SHOULD Separate Your Personal Life & Professional Life Online, you are already different people offline – what you say and how you act around your good friends in the evenings, away from families, is probably not exactly the same as what you say and how you act around your grandmother, or your employer. I remember dancing at a music festival… on stage… and being mortified when I realized a co-worker was in the audience. It’s why, on many social media platforms, I have two different accounts: one for the professional “me,” the one you are experiencing now, and one for the me I reserve for only my very closet friends or others that are really into Benedict Cumberbatch.

Chayka’s piece makes a great companion to these recent remarks by NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson on “CBS This Morning” regarding Facebook “privacy” and my blog Freaking out over Facebook privacy? Both of those blogs offer steps to keep your online activities fun, to maintain and grow both personal and private relationships, but also to keep better control of what you share online.

A warning re: Facebook privacy from Nicholas Thompson

NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson was on “CBS This Morning” today, and his comments about Facebook and privacy are worth reading (or listening to):

One of the things that Facebook does is that they’re constantly pushing the line of privacy. They always have, and they always will. They want to take stuff that you want to have private and they want to make it public. What happened with me is my year in review is, of course, pictures of my children, and all sorts of other things. But all of these are things that I’ve marked PRIVATE. I went to share my year in review, and, of course, Facebook defaulted to make it public, so instead of going to just my friends, it goes to 100,000 people. I had to quickly say, oh wait, no, I don’t want it to happen. that’s just the way Facebook operates. It’s always pushing that line. .. Facebook makes money by knowing as much as it possibly can about you, about your friends, about what you talk about because then it can target ads. SO if, for example, it knows, that I have kids, and there are comments about when their birthdays are, it can then have ads selling me stuff to get them for their birthdays or whatever. Facebook just wants as much information about you as it can possibly have in the most public form it can possibly get… Facebook is a business disguised as a service… Assume that Facebook will always be pushing every single possible way it can legally get away with to take everything you do and to make it as public as possible. With that assumption, set your privacy settings more restrictive than you think you might need to do… Facebook’s view, Mark Zuckerberg’s view, has always been that people don’t care about privacy and that over time we will share more and more and become more comfortable with letting more intimate details out into the world. And he is right. Over time we are more comfortable, over time we are giving up more, over time Facebook is shrinking the boundaries of privacy, and people really don’t complain.

Thompson is not saying, “Don’t use Facebook.” Obviously, he still uses Facebook. I use Facebook (I have both a profile and a page). And his comments can be said about so many online social networks – they are businesses, not services, and they make money by gathering information about you and sharing it with businesses that want to sell you stuff.

If you have never looked at your Facebook profile using a profile that is not yours and isn’t among your Facebook friends, you really should – once a year, in fact. Ask a co-worker that you are not friends with on Facebook if he or she would be willing to log into Facebook and then to look at your Facebook profile and timeline while you look over his or her shoulder, to see what really is public and what isn’t. Look for your contact information (phone number, email), your birthday, photos of yourself and, if you have such, your children. Everything you see is visible to ANYONE with a Facebook account, including those people who are not Facebook friends. Are you comfortable with what you can see? If not, change your Facebook privacy settings.

Why should you care about your privacy? Because:

  • Your employer nor your co-workers should not see what you did on vacation, or what you do outside of work hours; it’s none of their business, and they could use it to fire you. In this economy, most people can’t afford to lose their jobs over something you do outside of work that has nothing to do with your on-the-job performance.
  • It makes it easier to steal your identify. Knowing your birthday and mother’s maiden name can help a thief gather all the information he or she needs to use your identify to buy things.
  • Your life needs boundaries. Your life will feel full of creepy people if you share everything online. I’ve had a few people at my workshops say some things about my personal life that they found out because of what I’d posted online. Back when I shared it on Facebook, I didn’t think it was a big deal, but having it brought up at a workshop… it felt creepy.

YOU DO HAVE CONTROL. Be deliberate in what you post, and keep in mind that ANYTHING you post online, even if you set it to private, could become public, accidentally, maliciously and deliberately, or through a legal loophole.

Note: I transcribed Mr. Thompson’s comments myself. I apologize if I’ve made any mistakes.

Also see:

Freaking out over Facebook privacy?

Facebook announced this month that it is removing the privacy feature that lets Facebook users hide from the social network’s search bar. That means that, if you use your real name on Facebook, anyone can find you. It doesn’t mean anyone can “friend” you, or see what you have posted to Facebook, if you have your privacy set to “friends only.”

A lot of people are freaking out over this. I’m not. Facebook doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to a for-profit company. The goal of that company is to make money. Facebook makes money two ways: by selling advertising and by selling information about you – information that you have voluntarily, freely, willingly, inputted into the system. I’ve known that from day one. I’ve known that about every online system I’ve used. Maybe it comes from being trained as a journalist – when I write something online, I think of it as publishing.

Short of deleting your Facebook account altogether, what can you do to protect your information on Facebook from being accessed by people and companies you do NOT want to see it?

  • Use your privacy settings to make your Facebook posts viewable only by friends, or at most, friends of friends. And remember that you can always do a “custom” setting, where a post is viewed only by specific people you choose – or NOT viewable by certain people of your choosing.
  • Every time you post, make sure, next to the “post” button, the option says just “friends.” If it doesn’t, change it!
  • Alter your name so that it isn’t exactly your name. Add an extra “s” somewhere. Or three “a”s where just one should appear. Or a Q as your middle initial. That can help confuse companies that are sold your information by Facebook regarding who you really are.
  • Create an email address to use only with Facebook. Yahoo or Gmail are but two options you could use. Change this under your “about” page (under contact info). Never, ever use this email for anything but Facebook. That’s another thing that will confuse computer programs trying to match your data with other information online.
  • Take your birthday off of Facebook. I know – it’s so much fun getting all those birthday wishes from your friends! But your birthday is precious information that should never be inputted into a social media database – it can be used for identity theft. You can still post “It’s my birthday!” in a status update if you want those birthday wishes!
  • Do not use Facebook to sign into ANYTHING other than Facebook! When you create an account on some web site, and it asks if you want to sign in with Facebook, DO NOT DO IT.
  • Don’t acknowledge all of your family connections through Facebook’s “relationship” feature. For instance, many credit card and bank accounts ask you for your mother’s maiden name, and if you have linked to your maternal grandmother on Facebook via the “relationship” feature, I can figure out what that is. You can still talk about and to your grandmother on Facebook – just take it out of the Facebook “about” database (a database that Facebook SELLS).
  • You could create two Facebook accounts – one that is the public, professional you, where you post things you wouldn’t mind anyone seeing and knowing, where you “friend” co-workers and classmates, etc., and one that is the wacky, snarky, political, outrageous you, where you “friend” only your close friends and family. That’s a violation of Facebook’s user policy, and if they catch it, they will make you delete one of these accounts. To avoid detection: make the names at least slightly different, do NOT use the “relationship” feature exactly the same way on both, don’t input the same hometown and employment information, and don’t friend the same people on these accounts.

If you are one of the people that has freaked out over Facebook’s announcement, it’s time for you to sit down and really think about how you use online social media. Who is the “online” you? You have control of that – so what’s going to be your strategy for the online you?

Also see: Why You SHOULD Separate Your Personal Life & Professional Life Online

Why You SHOULD Separate Your Personal Life & Professional Life Online

This blog by Rosetta Thurman says you can’t separate your public and private lives online.

She’s wrong.

You can separate your public and private lives online – at least as much as you can offline. And, quite frankly, you should! She says it’s not cool to be two different people online. The reality is that, offline, you are at least two different people – and, in fact, you are probably a dozen different people. Offline, you already compartmentalize your life with regards to what information you share with others and what you do around certain people:

  • When you are with certain friends, you may talk mostly about sports, and when you are with different friends, you may talk about politics.
  • When you are at work, you might never bring up that you dress up for Renaissance faires.
  • There are people in your life that do not want to hear about your work. They either find it uninteresting or boring or too complicated to understand. So you don’t talk about your work with them. It’s not that your work is secret – it’s just not something you talk about with everyone.
  • When you are around your grandmother, you probably don’t use some of the colorful language you freely use with friends at a bar.

All those offline conversations and activities aren’t secret: it’s quite possible a co-worker is going to show up at a Renaissance faire and see you in costume. You may go to a conference and the speaker may turn out to be your socccer team coach, whom you had no idea was a lawyer specializing in risk management. But even when these worlds collide, they usually stay separate after the fact: your co-worker may greet you with “Forsooth, friend!” for a few weeks, you may be tempted to ask your soccer coach some legal questions after a game, but eventually, everyone will retreat to the roles in which they feel most comfortable.

Online, it’s no different:

  • You may have two Twitter accounts, one for your professional activities and one for your Star Trek convention activities. One account might allow anyone to see your tweets, even if they don’t follow you, and the other may require all followers to be approved.
  • On Facebook, you may have all of your Facebook friends in different lists (or, on GooglePlus, you may have all of your connections in different circles), and every time you post, you might include or exclude certain people or lists – you may target sports talk about your alma mater with other alumni, you may share your baby photos only with family, and you may exclude your in-laws from any of your political rants.
  • You may decide your Facebook account is only for real friends – that means you might be a LinkedIn connection of someone, but when you find that person on Facebook and try to connect, the person may refuse the connection. I’ve turned down friend requests from people on social networks I use primarily for personal reasons, and I’ve been turned down a few times by professional colleagues, who say that their Facebook account is to talk to family and close friends, not people they work with.
  • You may hide people you’ve friended online from your Facebook newsfeed, because you are fed up with all the cat photos or daily affirmations. You can still see news about them if you go to their pages, but you decide you really don’t need their religious comments daily.

The point: you are already being different people online – and you should be, just as you are offline!

Could a diligent person find absolutely everything you do online, despite these efforts and despite your online privacy settings? Absolutely! But outside of a stalker, that’s probably not going to happen; most of your professional colleagues will never know about your Lt. Uhura costume, because they aren’t ever going to stumble upon the Twitter feed you use specifically to talk about that. You aren’t going to bore your soccer teammates with online talk about the professional conference you attended, because they are going to unfriend you on Facebook if that’s all you’re going to talk about.

So, yes, you can separate your public and private lives online – at least as much as you can offline. And you should separate your public and private lives online, at least to a degree, just as you do offline, because not everyone wants to hear absolutely everything about you. Here’s how you do that:

  • Think of everything you post online as publishing. You are producing a publication – the same as a newsletter, a flier, a newspaper, a pamphlet, a holiday letter to friends, etc. – every time you create an online account and start posting information. When you post online, you should be thinking about who the audience is for that publication – you don’t write exactly the same letter to your grandmother than you do your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, do you? Then why try to have a one-size-fits-all message every time you post online?
  • If you associate or use your work email to create a social media account, then that account is part of your job, period. In fact, your company may require you to give up that account when you leave the company, since you associated it with your work email. If you want to use a social media account and not always be talking as an employee of a company, use a personal email to create or associate with that account.
  • You may say no to Facebook friends or Twitter followers. You have that right. Just always have an alternative to offer someone. For instance, I use LinkedIn to link to people I have worked with or whose work I am familiar with. Period. I do not link to people I haven’t worked with or whose work I am not familiar with – if I did, then LinkedIn would become a meaningless phone book. When someone I don’t know wants to friend me on LinkedIn, I encourage them to, instead, like my Facebook page.
  • If Facebook seems to be the place where all of the online activities of your personal friends, family and co-workers are intersecting – it’s the primary place you are interacting with people from all of those groups – then get all your contacts into lists, and be mindful every time you post. Should a political rant go to everyone, or should you exclude anyone you have coded as a co-worker? It’s a courtesy to not bombard your professional colleagues with baby photos, or to bombard your family and friends with your latest conference slideshow presentations, offline as well as on!
  • Consider creating a Facebook page for your professional life, rather than friending co-workers on Facebook. A page is different than a profile: with a page, anyone can “like” your page, but people that like your page can see only what you post to that page, as opposed to seeing what you share on your profile timeline (if you have set your privacy settings so that no friends can see that content).
  • Share personal things with your professional colleagues online via the online profile you’ve chosen primarily for professional activities only as much as you would offline in the office: would you pass around vacation photos at lunch? Would you invite all of your co-workers to your daughter’s wedding? Would you talk about the Renaissance faire in the break room? Would you tell your office mates about your new drummer boyfriend? It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share personal things with professional colleagues and clients – I know that sharing my photos from my motorcycle trips has gone over quite well with co-workers and clients, and perhaps even contributed to their image of me as adventurous and outgoing (hence why I don’t share photos of myself in sweat pants, watching “Buffy” marathons, which is something I do as much, if not more, than motorcycle trips).

Can it get messy, can boundaries get blurred? Of course, just like it can offline when you’re rocking out at a concert and look over to see one of your clients in the audience, spell bound by your dancing abilities. Even if you aren’t violating any policies or doing anything illegal, your offline actions can have consequences. That’s life. A board member at a nonprofit where you volunteer may get angry at seeing you on the front page of the newspaper participating in a demonstration against something he or she supports – or seeing that you “liked” a political candidate on an online social network that he or she opposes. If you are not a spokesperson at your organization, and there’s no written policy against employees expressing political beliefs outside of the office, you should be as fine in the eyes of the organization regarding what you do online as what you do off.

Should you keep professional activities and personal activities absolutely, completely segregated? Of course NOT – clients, co-workers, and even potential employers, want to see some of your personality. Sharing photos from my personal life built a lot of bridges with my co-workers in Afghanistan once-upon-a-time.

What about creating accounts using pseudonyms? Or should you keep certain things about yourself off the Internet entirely? There is nothing at all unethical about this in certain circumstances: perhaps you are on a private online group for victims of domestic violence, because you are one yourself. Or you are an aid / humanitarian worker that visits ultra-conservative regions and would be in danger if people there knew you were gay. Perhaps you are a teacher that also writes fan fiction, and you aren’t sure all of the parents of your students would be able to separate you as a teacher from you as an author. In those cases, you have every right to use a pseudonym for certain online activities, or to not share certain information online at all.

Type your name into Google or Bing a couple of times a year and see what comes up – are you comfortable with an employer, or potential employer, or your neighbor, seeing the first 10 links to your name? If not, then start thinking more deliberately about your online behavior.

In short: once again, offline rules apply online. Be as mindful and deliberate online about information sharing as you are offline, tell the truth, just as you would in any printed publication, and you won’t worry about your integrity or image. And please – keep your online activities separate so I don’t have to see your baby’s potty training.

I don’t like “Closed Gardens”

I don’t like “closed gardens” like Facebook to create online communities for volunteers, clients or members. Not only for all of the reasons I note here on TechSoup, but also because a lot of people do NOT like mixing their social lives with their volunteering lives.

Take this story today on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, that noted a teacher was fired for a photo on her Facebook page that showed her drinking wine while she was on vacation. That’s enough to make anyone paranoid about using their Facebook page for their work or volunteering.

Also, if I am required to join a Facebook group as a part of my volunteering, that means other volunteers and the organization’s employees are going to know I’m on Facebook, and want to become my friend – and be hurt if I say no.

More on why I don’t like “closed gardens” as online communities for volunteers, clients or members. Weigh in there on your own thoughts! (if you try to comment here on this particular blog, I’m going to NOT publish your comment and ask that you over to TechSoup and reply)