Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

WritingThere is no such thing as internet privacy.

If you post it, tweet it, blog it, email it, or text it, whatever “it” is—it’s out there. Permanently.  Anybody: your mother, your potential employer, your current employer, your boyfriend, your doctor, your psychologist, ANYBODY can see it.

All of this makes my mom’s advice to me when I was younger seem even more important now: If you don’t want everybody to see it, don’t write it down (or take a picture of it).

My mother was warning me back in the days when notes and letters could get passed around the school yard, but today emails and posts can be passed around the world instantly, and pictures can be uploaded and photoshopped. Mistakes are amplified, which in my mind makes being a teenager today incredibly difficult.

When I was a teenager, I could screw up in private, tell my best friend or write about it in my diary, and be reasonably assured that it wouldn’t be broadcast to the world. And if I really didn’t want anyone to read what I wrote in my diary, I could tear out the page and incinerate the paper.

When I was a teenager, school systems didn’t have “zero tolerance” laws; mercy, compassion, kindness and forgiveness were the rules of the day. Today teenagers have to worry about friends with webcams and smart phones being everywhere, and if a friend messes up and doesn’t think before posting, that post can’t be undone. The consequences of mistakes are far graver. Colleges, scholarship committees, employers all conduct internet searches on applicants, and some of them are as good at finding information as the NSA. What’s out there can hurt you.

The “be careful what you post” talk is becoming every bit as important as the sex and drugs talk for parents to have with their kids. It’s easy as a parent to feel like there is no way to keep up, with new platforms coming online every day. I sometimes feel that way, and I lead the social media efforts for a large company—I’m paid to keep up.

In reality though, common sense and caution still rule. My mom’s advice to me was given before internet, and it’s still the right advice today:

If there is anybody you wouldn’t want to see what you are thinking of writing (or posting): don’t write/post it.

Cyberspace is an amazing place. It lets us connect to people a world away. We learn about places and cultures we might not otherwise experience. We can “see” events unfold in real time—even on the other side of the globe. These are incredible gifts that can enhance our lives markedly.

However, we live in a highly judgmental, quick-to-condemn society where a tweet and someone’s opinion of it colors our opinion, even though we might not know all the facts. We make up our minds instantly, without waiting to hear the whole story or listen to multiple perspectives. We fail to slow down and say: “Wait, what is the rest of the story?” “Are there extenuating circumstances?” “This seems incomplete.”

So here’s my advice:

  1. Think twice before you post. Do you really want the whole world to read what you just wrote?
  2. When something goes viral or trends on Twitter, ask yourself, “Do I know the whole story? Should I be so quick to rush to judgment? Are these the actual facts?”

If everybody starts doing those two things, Cyberspace will be a far more pleasant place to be.

© 2013 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “The Mythical Unicorn of Internet Privacy

  1. M H White says:

    Do I want my parents, my kids, and my friends to see what I post today? Yes, because I’m posting a link to this. Thanks, Michele.

  2. A lot of young people have no filter in real life or on the Internet, adn they simply don;t realize the repercussions. Good post!

    1. Michele says:

      Hi Linda,
      Part of what you develop as a teen/young adult is that filter and that ability to understand long-term consequences. I fear that we have taken away the safety net that previous generations had–we developed those filters by making small mistakes and learning from them. These days small mistakes are amplified so quickly, and there seems to be little forgiveness to go around.

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