My Personal Paparazzi

I used to have a mantra about what I posted on the Internet: “I don’t post anything that I would not want the whole world to see.” A picture of me at the East Side Gallery in Berlin is in the wild where anyone can see it. This is fine with me, because I chose to share it. Unfortunately, in the past year my privacy motto has fallen a bit flat as changes to the ways Internet users share information have occured. These changes caused me to leave Facebook and join Twitter even though the later has less privacy controls.

Facebook has settings to help you protect what you post about about yourself. Although it is sometimes convoluted Facebook provides granular control over who can read your posts. For the most part Twitter does not allow for this level of control, and that is fine with me as anything I post online I could care less who reads it.

So what is the problem with Facebook then? I really have no issue with having the ability to share with Facebook that I am at my local coffee shop. However, I do take issue with the idea that someone else at the coffee shop could check me in. Of course Facebook Places does give some control over who can check you into your location, but what happens when a total stranger snaps a picture at the coffee shop with you in the background. This hypothetical stranger could with the best of intentions post that photo on their Facebook account. Now, perhaps you have a mutual friend with this stranger, and upon seeing you in the background of the photo “tags” you. Now, a stranger was able to publicly share your location without ever even meeting you.

This is largely an etiquette issue. Sites like Facebook often feel like the middle school cafeteria to me. Someone nonchalantly mentions an interesting fact about a friend, and within minutes the gossip has spread across the hall while the victimized friend sits red faced amongst the chatter.

So, it’s not so much the fact that anyone can look up what I write that worries me. What scares me is that anyone can share personal facts about me. The real fright starts when I see websites like Facebook encouraging this gossipy behavior with the functions of their service. Twitter so far doesn’t suffer this same problem. While anyone could of course spread gossip about me through tweets the service is not really set up to reward that type of social interaction.

What I want in a social networking service isn’t so much control over what I do and don’t share (I’m pretty good at judging that). Instead I want to have some confidence about the way my character is portrayed on that service. In ten years when I look back I hope that my preserved online presence is like an editorial in the New York Times (distinguished, clean, but true to the facts about my short comings), and not like a middle school year book with party pictures on every other page, class mate notes about how they think I’m dumb, and curly mustaches drawn on my photo. Some of both is going to happen of course, but I only want to actively participate in the prior model.

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