Living in Public: Addressing Privacy Fears About Your Online Posts

Would you hire me? Read on…

Usually, it begins with a comment like this:  “Oh, I could never risk putting something out there on the internet, and have it come back to haunt me years later. That stuff never goes away.  Once it’s posted, it’s on the internet forever.” Lately, I’ve been having this conversation with certain clients, friends and fellow filmmakers who still are avoiding social media, because they fear that someone will post something unflattering about them, and they won’t be able to control it.

And granted we hear stories about young people not getting jobs because a prospective employer looked at their Facebook page and saw some drunken party photo of them. And we see on the front page examples of knucklehead public officials and celebrities texting photos of their private parts — as if the photo wasn’t going to get saved and passed on? This is simply internet-imitates-life. (In other words, don’t be an ass). And some folks have real-life privacy issues to reckon with because of the unfair world we live in. I was once at a gay friend’s birthday party who reminded everyone not to post online pictures of him and his beloved, because he worked for “The City” and feared he could lose his job if he was outed at work.  Still. In 2011. I don’t want to trivialize how badly this sucks.

Would you hire ME?

But most of us, lets face it, are just workaday regular folks with relatively mundane lives. Plain and simple. And I think if you treat the internet like what it is, a public forum that almost everyone can see, then you have nothing to fear…and plenty to gain.

By making myself super easy to find online, and fostering a reputation as a subject matter expert through Twitter and Facebook discussions about my work and the industry, I give people a way to connect with me, get to know me, and begin a relationship with me. This, I hope, will lead to interesting and fruitful collaborations. To keep things interesting, I post a lot of personal opinion and ideas in hopes of sparking a connection with likeminded folks.

Okay, I’m not an expert on online privacy issues. I’m strictly speaking from personal experience. And my personal experience, in a nutshell, has been this: I’ve had my home phone number, address, photos of me in all manner of circumstances, two relationships, links to all my lefty, feminist political groups, and an endless supply of personal opinions — on Facebook, on Twitter, on my business website and my personal blogs for almost 10 years now, and not one bad thing has happened as a result. I freely embrace the ethos of social media, of living in public, and have had zero negative repercussions. More importantly, I can’t say enough good things about how having a strong presence on the internet has had on my small business. I make connections and get hired because people know me. And they know me, because I’ve given them a peek at my professional and personal life, online.

How ’bout this girl?

I have had people disagree with me. I have been “warned” by well-intentioned clients that perhaps it would be better to say less, for example, about my political leanings. However, I have never felt it necessary to hide any part of myself online, anymore than I would in person. Indeed, I would rather lose a potential client because they don’t agree with my world view than have them hire me, because I’m pretending to be something I’m not. Authenticity, my friends is key.

The “official” portrait (thx Kris Hundt)

Here’s another way to look at it. My website is my storefront, open to the public, easily findable via search engine and containing everything you could want to know about my professional life: bio, resume, awards, work samples. Ditto my LinkedIn account. My @shirleythompson Twitter account is an extension of my film editing business Shirley Thompson Editorial, and hence includes mostly tweets about documentary films, film editing and the film business, intermingled with personal and political comments and discussions about what to eat (a Twitter staple, but I happen to have made a film about local, sustainable food, so it works). My Facebook Page for Shirley Thompson Editorial is similar, with a lot more video links, since it’s easier for the moment to post video on Facebook. This page is also completely public, and I’m pleased as punch that there are folks who have “liked” this page whom I don’t even know yet. Note that on both Twitter and Facebook and newer sites like Google+, you can remove a post, a picture or a status update. So you can edit yourself after the fact, in case of a typo (the main reason I ever delete something), or because you’ve had a change of heart.

Racewalking, a FB featured activity!

My personal Facebook page is just that – personal. You have to be my Facebook friend to see it, everyone else is blocked. There are 278 photos of me, my friends, my family, my sweetie, my cats, my garden, my travel, my parties, rainbows over Honolulu, etc. It also includes photos of me with ex-sweeties (one in particular who I still absolutely adore), a lot of party snaps with wine glass in hand (I do like my wine), the occasional unfortunate shot of my butt or with jeans that are a tad too tight. All those photos have a privacy setting that allows only friends and friends of friends to see them (and you can control who sees the photo even more). If it’s a photo from someone else’s Facebook account that I don’t want published, I can always remove the tag with my name to disassociate myself from it, or report the photo and have the photo removed altogether if it’s abusive. By the way, this has never happened with me. (You can learn all about Facebook privacy settings in the Help section).  

It’s all GOOD!

On my personal Facebook, I hold nothing back. So if I’ve deemed that you are a friend, I am going to share my life with you. Not everybody wants to be this open and free. I value being my authentic self, for the good and the bad of it, more than being closeted for the sake of any goal or personal gain. And I think that people who agree with or admire this approach will be more willing to hire me as a result of it, or “like” my company or be my friend.

So if you’ve avoided social media because you fear it, remember that you can control the message and the view of what people get to see about you, because you get to choose what you put out there. If you don’t want to share it, don’t share it! And if you do share it, be awake to the fact that everyone, including your mother, your minister and your future employer, may indeed someday see it, unless you learn how to use your privacy settings.

For a little levity on all this social media talk, here is a favorite humorous video on the topic.

Does this change your thinking in anyway about this social media stuff? Let me know what you think.

 

Documentary editor with a heart of gold. Seasoned PBS documentary editor, writer, producer and story consultant, specializing in social issue films with a bent towards changing the world.

2 responses to “Living in Public: Addressing Privacy Fears About Your Online Posts”

  1. Rock on, Shirley! Good people should have no reason to be afraid. Thanks for spelling it out.

  2. Thanks Laura…for me, it’s all about living large and living with integrity and being true to yourself and others… st

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