Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where do we draw the line?

In this age of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc, there’s a whole lot of information about each of us being shared and viewed by others. For the most part we can control the spread of that information, by setting privacy preferences or simply limiting the amount of data we put out there. Usually these restrictions are discussed in terms of what we wouldn’t want strangers to know about us. For example, I don’t post my home address on my facebook page next to a status update that says, “Janet is heading out of town for 5 days!!” because I don’t want some shady character seeing that as an opportunity. Yes, I know a potential robber could find my address through other means on the internets after discovering I was going out of town, but I try not to make it incredibly easy. Also, I can restrict my status updates to only be shown to my “friends,” or those I’ve granted the ability to see what I’m doing at any given moment. (Hopefully none of those people would ever rob me). But after I've assured myself that I’m not sharing too much with criminals, I need to analyze what I’m sharing with friends…

I used to think I lived in this sheltered world where only 20 somethings ever got on facebook or myspace. They were all like me, so it didn’t matter what silly thing I did or said, or what crazy pictures I posted. And then facebook and myspace hit mainstream. You started hearing them mentioned on the news and on TV shows, and they weren’t the secret clubs they used to be. Now everyone’s got a facebook page! Including my mom. And my dad. And my former teachers. And my coworkers. And my bosses. So now posting those pictures of Oktoberfest or my Cozumel beach trip don’t sound like such a great idea. I still want my close friends to share in my fun times, but I don’t care to show my mother a picture of my drunken debauchery on a Mexican beach. Or my boss for that matter. I'm not saying that either of those people isn't my friend, I'm saying that there are some things that are best kept among a limited group of users.

So this is the part where you tell me to just create private photo albums on snapfish and email out the link to only the specific people I want to see them. Well that’s all well and good, but what about everything else besides pictures? What if I want to let my friends know I’m heading to a bar for happy hour on a Wednesday night, and they should join me, but that gets read by my superiors who will be seeing me the next day, wondering what kind of lush drinks during the week? And you can say goodbye to status updates or comment exchanges during the work day. I’m terrified to announce my joy in meeting my husband for lunch, for the possibility that it might look like I’m doing anything non-work-related during the day. If I receive a random question from a friend about a photo or my plans or whatever it might be, you’re out of luck even though it could be answered in about 5 seconds. I could probably respond over facebook mobile on my iphone while walking from my desk to the bathroom, but I’m not going to do it because of the “appearance” that I’m not busy enough during the day. Facebook can turn into a Big Brother scenario very quickly.

Scaling it back to an even simpler situation, what information do I share on my Profile? Do I refrain from answering the political affiliation and religious beliefs questions because I’m afraid my fairly Conservative family members and coworkers will realize I'm not a God-fearing Republican? I wouldn't be too bothered if that caused a friend to change their view of me, but I certainly have to be concerned if it changed a coworker or boss's view of me. What if my performance review was being given by someone who recently saw me make a comment about how disappointed I was in the Bush administration, and that person is a die-hard Bush supporter? You can try to dispute this, but it's really hard to separate out the different roles we play. And it's really hard not to consider certain information once you're aware of it.

So what is the solution? Do we hide our true feelings? Do we avoid making any comments besides "the weather's great"? I don't think the point of facebook/myspace/twitter is to censor ourselves. They're a way to connect with people, and a way to let other people keep up with our happenings....our jobs, our kids, our dogs, our favorite shows. But just because I want to keep some people updated about ALL aspects of my life doesn't mean I want to keep EVERYONE updated about all aspects of my life. Unfortunately there isn't a way to tell facebook to only show my high school friends the next comment I plan on making. So if I plan on utilizing facebook/myspace/twitter for its intended purpose, then I have to censor my friends. Not my content, my friends. It doesn't mean I don't like you, it means I think our relationship is better served if we don't know every single thing about each other. Unfortunately I'm too far gone to implement this plan on facebook. But there's still hope for twitter! I'm setting it up so that I have avenues to be able to say whatever I want, whenever I want, but to the audience of my choosing. That's the way it needs to be and that's my prerogative. :)


terry said...

"Filtering friends" is a really insightful way of putting it. I stopped recently, but I've got a reasonable expectation that I'll go back to locking down my updates pretty soon.

Also, curiously, what do you think about capitalizing "god"? Depending on the blog I read, some do it, treating it as a proper noun, and others don't, possible as a way of saying that imaginary shit isn't worth capitalizing.

PS: captcha: mogners.

Janet said...

If I'm talking about the Christian deity, then I usually capitalize it. It's a person's name, whether he's imaginary or not. That doesn't necessarily lend it any credence beyond that, since I also capitalize Superman and Wolverine.

terry said...

Wolverine should ALWAYS be capitalized, even if you're talking about the animal. Superman? He's a douche.

Jo Mama said...

When i first joined Facebook, I could create this "Friend List" and set certain parameters for those people...i.e, they didn't see my status updates, but they could see my wall posts, or vice versa. i set the parameters for that list to be restrictive, and then assigned any co-workers/colleagues that tried to befriend me to that list, so they couldn't see everything. i don't think this still exists on Facebook, does it? it should. it was GREAT.