Once upon a time, a young girl started a personal blog to air out all the emotions and judgements inside, the embarrassing parts she would never share openly in real life. Blogs, as it turns out, though, are in real life. Her boyfriend, testing out Google Image Search, found her blog. He read everything and then texted her “we need to talk.”
As a woman, maybe she didn’t learn. She took pictures she thought were funny, though certainly not flattering, to share a laugh with close friends. Her phone automatically uploaded pictures taken to the cloud, to a private Dropbox account. When she mentioned it off-hand to a friend, he cautioned her at the increased vulnerability of having photos stored online, only hidden by a skimpy password.
Her social media accounts like Facebook are all set to private, now. She untags herself from photos where she looks drunk or sexual. She does not post on Twitter or anywhere opinions on her school, her employer, or hot button issues like religion. Her LinkedIn profile makes no mention of personal affairs like hobbies. She’d rather not have to work so hard to hide who she is in all lights, and to worry unintended people would see parts of her she wants kept private, but she has accepted this is the world we live in now.
Organizations likewise struggle to maintain their reputation when any employee can damage it within five seconds by writing about the organization publicly, or revealing offensive content publicly – which is what writing online is, public, as careful as we may think we are. Most employers now have social media policies to ensure employees know what is unacceptable and what the consequences would be.
Potential employers and clients/patients/students also scrutinize our public personal presence. They glean from it the type of person you are, which can be positive, but often the most minute detail like a preference for organic meat, or perhaps interest in guns, may establish a bias against you. One can take advantage of the situation and build a personal brand, but there is something to be said about self-censorship for fear of judgement.
If you’re curbing your political activity, for instance, out of worry others may like you less, worry it will hurt your career and relationships… If you’re avoiding expressing genuine opinions, even avoiding taking private photos out of fear – how far are we willing to compromise ourselves to fit societal expectations? At the same time, how much privacy do we have a right to expect?