Breaking Privacy Expectations

privacy cartoon

Something strange happened a few weeks ago. My traffic was normal, but there was this enormous spike in page views. I later discovered someone was doing some stalking in order to write the most upsetting comment they could on something I’d written. Given my normal stats, I estimate they looked at over 500 pages and spent around 5-7 hours on the site. (Analytics are so awesome and their behavior so extreme, I can also tell you the city they were in and that they use Chrome). Seriously odd.

Around the same time, I was googling myself and I discovered a guy I knew at university had embedded Facebook status conversations from 2007 (that I was part of) in his blog.

These things really got me thinking about my expectations of what people will find out about me online. I’m fine with what people find out about me when they search, I’m fine living, to an extent, in public. But – I don’t expect someone to read most of my archive in one go. Especially given the motivation – I found it rather creepy. I don’t share much on Facebook, and I would be fine with what I share (now) being public, but I did have this expectation that over time it would – even if it still exists – be old enough that people were unlikely to find it. As I removed this guy in a clean-up of my friend list some time ago, I can’t even access the comment to delete it.

The realization that when you comment on someone’s status, or write on their wall on Facebook means that you entrust it to their privacy settings (and their ideas of what is appropriate) is seeming more important than it did previously.

These are not technical problems, they are issues of etiquette. The thing is, whilst people have tried to come up with guidelines for online etiquette, it’s not exactly been wildly successful. The guy embedding conversations probably didn’t think it was a big deal at the time (would it have been? Would I have deleted my comment then? Would I have refrained from conversing in public with him?). The woman who spent so much time trying to upset me probably didn’t realize how obvious it would be from the analytics, and thought she could hide behind anonymity.

And what is the appropriate response? To ask for the post to be deleted? To try and add him as a friend in order to delete my comments? Or just to leave it?

Likewise on anonymous comments. I’m against censorship. I believe in freedom of speech. How far should that extend?

Still working on the answers. However, as these were both very odd occurrences, I don’t think I’ll be changing my behavior. I already use Facebook very differently to how I did in my undergrad (specifically, minimally) and I get too many benefits from blogging to give it up because of one weirdo. But – it’s definitely given me something to think about.

[Image credit: I can’t find where this is from, I found it on another blog who hadn’t credited it properly. I think it’s by Chris Slane]

3 thoughts on “Breaking Privacy Expectations

  1. I like applying the living room test to comments on my blog. If it would be out of place in my living room, it would be out of place on my blog. This allows for disagreement and good argument, but makes it easy to tell when people have crossed the line (blatant shilling, trolling, etc.). If people feel strongly enough about something, they can use their own blog to talk.

    There are worse cases, of course, and sudden bolts of chaos and hatred coalescing around a point. I’m not sure if there’s anything one can actually do to avoid getting hit by something like that.(I wonder if there’s an Internet-troll equivalent for lighting rods to keep you safe?) People pick up on the weirdest things. I know the answer isn’t to live the most meekly unoffensive life possible, but I don’t know what the answer is.

    Something I picked up from a relationship book – the question, “Whose quirk is this, anyway?” I think we can definitely conclude that it’s not you, it’s them. You are fine, just as you are, as who you are.

    1. Thanks Sacha! I haven’t heard of the living room test, but it sounds like a good metric! I definitely don’t want to live a “meekly inoffensive life” – that’s a helpful thing to consider. I.e., if I didn’t write this, if I didn’t speak my mind, would I be duller than I want to be? Instead of “is this potentially offensive to someone, somewhere”, I should ask “is this interesting?”

      When people are nervous of blogging and social networking they cite weirdos on the internet as to why it’s inadvisable/dangerous/whatever. Weirdos are unpleasant, yes, but the upsides (and the Sachas!) make it overall such a tremendously useful and rewarding thing that they are just blips.

      I like the “whose quirk is this, anyway?” thing. What book is that from?

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