On privacy, blogs, and social networking sites

I am sure there are a few voyeuristic readers hoping for details of my personal life and travels in my blog. I may have a bit of a flamboyant side and can easily recognize my own extroverted personality. But I’m not an exhibitionist. I say this even though I got sucked into the world of myspace and facebook. Oh, and before that, blackplanet (how wack was that site?) There was a recent psychological study about this generation being more narcissistic. The article pointed to websites like myspace and facebook encourage you to be so. But the sad thing is that those social networking sites are made for disconnected people who suffer from lonliness and isolation. But often, people who spend hours on those sites close themselves off from real relationships with people right next to them. In an effort to feel unique and special, people post very personal information. The information ranges from your hobbies, interests, activities and affiliations, your favorite books, movies, classes, where you live, where you have traveled, your relationship status, your opinion, and your amazing circle of “friends.”

I especially find it annoying when the buddies post personal messages like this , “Salaams, Hey, it was so great that I finally got to meet you. We had so much fun with you hanging out at yadda yadda’s house! Joe Blow says hi. Love you! Your sis for reals” on the message board. Now, they know the message board was public. But the message board on myspace and the facebook wall are meant to let everyone else know that you are friends. I found it annoying when people had 1000+ friends on myspace. I always felt like there should have been 6 degrees of sepearation, like “Shared interest,” “A web associate of a friend of a friend,” “A person I added because I think they are kinda hot,” “Page with some remotely interesting content”, etc.

At first, I didn’t have much privacy settings on myspace. Slowly over time, I tightened my settings. I didn’t want any more lame artists trying to add me. I didn’t want to add half naked guys without shirts showing off their abs. Nor did I want half naked women, even though I was suprised to find friends from highschool dressed provocatively. They were models, of some sort. At first, I didn’t make my site private because I had a blog with, what I felt were, important things to say.. Then, I got to know a slightly disturbed young woman. She showed me how women can obsess about myspace. For some women it was an investigation tool. Some try to detail your circle of friends and “intimates” on the page. Or, it was a way that some people used to check up on someone they don’t have the courage to call or write. When I took down all my personal information and pictures from myspace people asked me why. Others understood the weirdness that myspace helped encourage. There were times I only went on myspace to read two powerful blogs, one by a brother who goes by the psuedonym “Dan Freeman” and Kali Tal. But still, I’d run into madness.

Over the past few years, facebook seemed like it was largely immune to many of the social-networking-site-illnesses that were endemic to myspace. Facebook began as a college networking site. And it was limited to a few good schools. And you could only join if you had an email account from one of the schools. It was a nice way to keep up with those who graduated and lost their student email accounts. We all were students and grad students, attended similar events and posted pictures of our volunteer organization activities and campus social gatherings. We also posted up pictures of our families, travels, and other personal pics. Then, it began to open up to the whole world. Now, people can google your name and find your facebook page. Scary, because that means that your professional and academic network can be subject to the same stalker’s scrutiny. I have to make sure I up my security and take down my personal pics. It is not something I want to share with the whole world, let alone my undergrad students.

For me blogging has raised a number of similar important issues. I have shifted my focus away from writing about my personal life. Numerous people have told me that I should write a memoir. As a creative writer, I’d prefer to write fictional accounts of some events of my life (but I’m not going to write anything until I push out this dissertation so that’s a long ways away). I really want to respect the privacy of the people I care and have cared about at one point in my life. Even though you can find out some general things that I’m into and doing in this blog, it is not a diary. I hope it doesn’t come off as a pity party either. I definitely don’t intend my blog to substitute for personal interactions with interesting people. But on the top of my list, I really hope my blog does not invite stalkers or people trolling for personal details of my life. But, the blog world does sort of invite that. And I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on this issue. I write details of my life as they come up and are relevant to the social issues that I’m exploring. My blog entries are not articles, nor are they essays. Nor are they polished writing (if I have ever achieved that in my entire life). My blog is also not a newsblog nor is it full of political commentary. I’m not interested in quantity, although I have read that the most popular bloggers post something everyday. I’m not interested in popularity either. I have written earlier about why I write . Some say my blog is provocative, but I don’t write in order to provoke people or agitate them.

Clearly, this blog is not solipsistic. I enjoy feedback. Much of it has pushed me to think. And in some ways this blog fulfills a basic need we all have, to be known and understood. But while I have a tolerance for some aspects of myself to be known by the public, I also value my privacy. I will continue to write and share personal reflections. But, I have come to learn the importance of maintaining some semblance of boundaries.

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6 thoughts on “On privacy, blogs, and social networking sites

  1. As-salaamu-alaikum,
    I enjoy your blog alot. I understand why you took your pics down. I myself never post pics of myself or of friends and family. I also have a mental list of the few things that I will reveal about myself on the net. If you are writing over a period of years, a tidbit here and a snippet there can add up to a whole lot of personal info.

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  2. Assalamu alaykum
    Six degrees of separation indeed. Its a small small world contrary to what people think and on the internet we have to be careful to keep who we are to ourselves.
    Stalkers arent nice.

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  3. First time seeing this blog, but I like it. Your post has a lot of truth to it. I have a Myspace, but usually don’t go on it very often. I’m tired of all those people who think its “cool” to take half naked pics to show off nothing. And also those people that literally tell you every single detail of there life in their “About Me” section. Some things just need to be kept to yourself, for your sake and others.

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  4. Hi,

    I must admit, you have beautifully summed up the virtual world that consumes so many of us today – sharing both the positive and the negative aspects of it.

    As a navigator of web, and guide to companies and people who want to use it to their advantage, I have gained a lot of insights from you, and I will hopefully use the knowledge to spread greater sensitivity among those who i imagine i have influence over!

    thank you, and keep writing!

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  5. hi! you hit it right on the spot. yes, i do have a blog and several accounts in different social networking sites but i’ve also seen the importance of how it is to keep your privacy and some important thoughts to yourself. it was only several months ago that i saw the need to keep some of my pictures and blogs from my website.

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  6. Salaams – I think almost every sane adult is having a conversation with himself all the time, blog or no. Good personal blogs are a version of that conversation and the best are where that conversation is largely concerned with trying to be a better human being. It shares the process and also makes it more conscious, allowing bloggers themselves to grow and develop using their reason. Isn’t that what a diary does? There are pitfalls to blogging because there are a hundred thousand pitfalls to self-knowledge and self improvement, and coming to terms with those pitfalls is again part of the conversation. But overall, for all the problems, I think blogging has the potential to make a great contribution to people’s understanding of themselves, even folks who have never been to college.

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