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Online? Expect to be read

A young friend of mine who works for a hip magazine in a super-hip city recently Tweeted a negative reference to her workplace. A few hours later, her boss called her in to the office, and told her she was lucky to be working at such a great place, and to NEVER say negative things again about the job. My young friend was surprised and angry.

“My Twitter name is not the same as my real name.” Still, it was close enough. And my friend’s face was on the online masthead of the mag, and she has been becoming a recognizable personality in her city. She gets stopped in the grocery store: “Don’t you write for…?”

Luckily my friend did not lose her job; she just got a warning. She was naive to think that she could gripe online and not be called accountable.

We all fall into this trap from time to time, even those of us who are grey-haired (until we enter the Aveda salon), and veterans of the net.  Just last night I was home alone, griping about being a “dance widow.” My husband goes to Contra dance festivals and I stay home and read. My choice, but the weekend can seem long. This morning, I asked Lou to help me post a photo on Red Room that was fighting back.

He sat down at the computer to help me, and whatever Google button he pressed brought up my “dance widow” blog. Quickly I ripped the keyboard from his competent hands! “Don’t read that!” I said. The illusion of privacy is seductive, and coupled with the sense that someone is listening, one can easily become “a private soul wailing at any public wall.”

Careful, I tell myself, my students, my young friend. Don’t publish online anything you wouldn’ t wan t your boss to see–or your sweet husband, or a potential employer. Would William Burroughs have survived the interne t?  He would have created a blog to end all blogs.   He invented the original talking asshole, after all.   The rest of us, though, need to remember that people do read what we post.

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  • Jeff McMahon February 21, 2011, 7:41 am

    Thank you for the reminder, Marilyn. There’s a widespread perception that privacy is on the wane as social media wax, but the privacy experts are more careful to say that, in fact, there is a growing illusion of openness within which individuals exercise control over a greater volume of once-private, now-public facts and opinions. As individuals like your friend shift bits of information—like how she feels about her job—from private to public, they have to measure and bear the consequences.

    • Marilyn Kallet February 21, 2011, 7:51 am

      Au contraire, thank you! It’s a learning curve for all of us, truth be told. But for the young people in new jobs, all the more important to put an artful face on the posts! Otherwise, there’s a haunting (yep, it all comes back!)
      Cheers, Marilyn

  • Amanda February 22, 2011, 3:57 am

    A jolting reminder. I just read about a young teacher who was fired for complaining about her students on her blog, calling them “lazy, disengaged whiners.” On a private blog, she has every right to vent. But it’s true, anything you post can eventually be found and read. Privacy is a slippery, elusive concept. We do want to be heard/read, but we also want to be in control of the dial that amps or softens the content, depending on the consequences of having been caught saying what we really think.

    When we talk about privacy, are we talking about the right to broadcast deeply personal, truthful feelings in public settings and have full control over who gets to see it? It’s chilling to be reminded that privacy on-line is an illusion, no matter what your blog settings or coded entry protocols may be. It’s also chilling to remember that as we go about our days, we’re still living with the potential threat of our internet access being compromised or shut off at any time, on a government’s whim. So maybe this whole online can’t be taken for granted, and all we do here, one great experiment in shouting from the collective mountain-top.