Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My virtual paranoia

You've probably noticed that the anecdotes that appear on this blog include quite a bit of self-deprecation (or self-congratulation, as the case may be) but hardly any personal detail. For example, I've posted about nasty clients I encountered at my last Chilean job but refused to indicate what type of job I had. I even deleted comments that alluded to it (sorry). I wrote a fair amount about my neighborhood in Santiago but didn't say which one it was. (What up, Estación Central?) And, of course, it's not a coincidence that nearly all the photos I post of myself don't include a full frontal view of my face. I'm not just being emo.

People might wonder -- with good reason -- why I'm so paranoid. It's not like I'm a celebrity or anything. Why would anyone want to waste their time stalking me online?

I'd like to ask the person who tried. I don't want to get into the sordid details, but a few years ago, a person contacted my employer in Chile seeking information about me and claiming we'd had a class together when I'd studied abroad. To make a long story short, I corresponded with this person for a few days online, all the while feeling guilty that I didn't remember her. The reason for this soon became obvious: I'd never met her at all. I realized this person had found sufficient information about me online to track me down and was now posing as someone she wasn't in order to achieve who knows what.

So I became paranoid. I wasn't that I was particularly afraid of this person, who dropped off the radar -- except for a minor Facebook incident -- when I cut off communication. The experience, however, made me aware of how easy it is for strangers to use the internet to both investigate and deceive you. The truth is that if anyone truly wanted to stalk me online, he or she could almost certainly find a way to do so; I decided, though, that I wasn't going to give potential stalkers any extra help by posting personal details on my blog.

This has made it impossible for me to share things about my life that I really would have liked to. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to blog about the outrageous experiences I had at my last Chilean job. Every time, though, I had to hold back: Even if I hadn't given the name of my company (which, needless to say, one should never do on a personal blog), the rubric I worked in was small enough that it would have been easy to guess where to find me from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. The same goes now for the Ph.D. program I'm about to start. Although it will probably become pretty obvious what I'm studying and where, I'm not comfortable publishing that information just yet.

Honestly, I wish I were, because -- call me voyeuristic -- I think learning details about other people's lives is part of what's so fun about reading blogs. Still, I think it's necessary to maintain a filter. I've seen blogs in which people have written things like, "Hey, friends and family! I got to India last night and spent today getting all my stuff organized in my new apartment. Here's the address so you can write me." I probably should have posted a comment along the lines of, "Are you insane?! Get your home address OFF THE INTERNET!" I've also read posts by people who identify their companies by name and proceed to bitch about their jobs. Bad move, amigos.

What do you think? Where should bloggers draw the line when it comes to sharing personal information? Is there any aspect of your life you would never consider making public?


Eileen said...

I know! I learned so much about you when I finally met you because there were so many things you don't talk about on the blog! I keep a less guarded tact, but I'm not sure why. I wouldn't post my address, though I do show pictures I've taken nearby and even out my window, so I guess someone could do the math. I mostly wouldn't post anything that would hurt anyone else, and probably wouldn't say anything much about romantic relationships past or present, but maybe that's it.

I'll be interested to hear what else people have to say, and am so glad you're going to keep up the blog despite demanding secret PhD-related tasks!

lydia said...

haha, i'm semi guarded, but moreso than secretive, i'm just trying to not be the first thing that comes up on google! i would LOOOOOVE to post about work. love. love. love. but its best i dont. in fact i hardly mention my main job at all.

a few months ago another blogger and i decided to get together. in the end i basically said id meet her at her streetcorner because i'd already deducted the building where she lived based on the view from her window. creepy.

Shannon said...

I learned my lesson about bitching about my job online since then I have kept that to myself. I guess I don't really filter much else. I post pics, my email is my full name. I dunno. I guess I never worried about having a stalker... I don't think of myself as someone interesting enough to stalk. But of course I'm not going to put my phone number, address or anything like that online. ;)

sarabeck said...

I know what you mean!

I used to put a lot more information about myself online. I still put more online that you do, but a lot less than I used to because I had a really creepy experience. A guy who found me on twitter, facebook, found my email, and my blog sent me an email and told me what I had ordered in Starbucks. He had been standing behind me while I ordered and I had no idea. How creepy. I blocked him on everything and he went away, but I will never put myself out there like that again!

So it's totally reasonable that you are concerned. I wouldn't call in paranoia though.

Abby said...

I agree with you about address, phone number, etc. I don't want anyone knowing where I live, or being able to contact me outside of the internet. I even had a different email published on my blog for awhile, but then I never checked it so I just put my real one there. I figure I can always avoid emails.

Also, YES YES YES about not publishing your work info. I don't want anyone knowing what company I work for, and with my new job, I hardly write anything about it (the trip to the snow being the big exception).

I always feel like writing about my love life..haha, but then I realize that it's too easy for said person, whoever he may be, to find my blog. But honestly, if I were to do that, I'd have some pretty hilarious stories.

Annje said...

This line is hard to draw. I know there are things I don't/won't say, some are specifics, like address (rarely even city) etc., and others are more vague. I wouldn't share work/school affiliations. I read a few blogs that sometimes get very personal and I recognize things I wouldn't share. I am fairly open and do share some personal details, though sometimes after great debate or hesitation. I try not to post anything that would hurt or embarrass anyone, though that is often a fine line too. My mom got mad after she found my blog and read a post where I made fun of her a little-I rarely discuss her, but she is great blog fodder;-) I try to be delicate with my husband... even when he irritates me ;-)
I am incredibly curious though, about certain things and about people whose lives I feel some kind of connection to--I asked you about your ph.d. area (because I am an academic nerd ;-) -though I was thinking that it seemed like you didn't want to share it so publicly-or you would have. It is good to be cautious, I often err on the side of shannon, thinking I am not really stalk-worthy, which is probably true, but you never know.

Kyle said...

I am usually so open online, but honestly some freaky things have happened lately that have me being a bit more guarded too. I actually thought of you and your crazy online stalker story quite a few times in the past month or so.

Margaret said...

I started out being very, very cautious, not using my real name (at first it was just La Gringa)and little by little have relaxed. But still-there's always that limit of how much information to give out to total strangers...
But I HAVE thought how fun it would be to invent a personality, start a blog, and talk about all those things you know you REALLY want to talk about but don't cuz someone will find you out...
I'm sure there must be tons of fake bloggers telling real stories out there!
If only I had more time--I don't even have enough time to be the real me, let alone a fake one!

Jamie said...

This reminds me of of how comfortable I've gotten lately online, and how maybe I should go back to being as paranoid as you. What the hell was this person stalking you for?? That sounds really creepy.