Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Risk Of Exposure

There are plenty of responses to Emily Gould's Times Magazine write up of her life as a Gawker blogger. Some people have taken the opportunity to reflect on why they blog, or how much of their lives have been invested in their blogs. Gould's article has stirred up fears and neuroses.

For those who missed it, Gould began as a typical blogger with a small following on her personal site, and then became part of Gawker, a mega-blog, that took her to a new level of visibility. In the process, her writing about her personal life pushed her into the public eye in such a way that she alienated friends, colleagues, and herself.

Gould described blogging as a type of addiction--an addiction to attention. I can understand this; attention, even from perfect strangers on the Internet, is flattering. When I began blogging, it was just after I moved to the city, and I had very few local friends. I was looking for a community to join, someone to talk to. And I found one. Like Gould, I overshared, and I got into trouble, and for a while I stopped.

And then I came back for more, because I missed writing. I made a resolve not to share as much of my personal life. I made a resolve to talk more about news articles that interested me, issues I cared about, like gay rights, education, and environmentalism.

When I read Gould's story, I have to say, I didn't really feel sorry for her. I felt that she made a series of bad decisions, and that she should have seen more of the red flags along the way. I talk about my blogging with my husband, but I don't write things about him without him knowing about it. If he didn't like something, it wouldn't go up in the first place; I wouldn't argue about it, as Gould did with her boyfriend. And I follow what I consider the Cardinal Rule of Internet use: don't publish anything you wouldn't be proud to wear on a sandwich board sign in Times Square. I used to think of it as "don't write anything you wouldn't want you parents to see," but really it's not just your parents, it's colleagues, potential employers, friends, enemies, anyone. And it's very easy for your words to be taken out of context.

My takeaway from Gould's experience is the need for self-control. In writing for an unpredictable population, you can't know how your words will be perceived, and therefore, you must tailor your content accordingly. There is a line between public and private, and Internet writers should know exactly where that line is, and be aware when it is crossed. There is no such thing as anonymity on the Internet; at some point, you will be found out, so be certain that what you publish is something you can live with being attached to your name.

Cross-posted to Damsels in Success.

2 responses:

Michael A. Burstein said...

As my wife says, posting something on the Internet is like shouting it at top of your lungs in the town square...and it never goes away.

Angela said...

Self control is important. It's hard to find the right balance for those of us who would mortified to be as exposed as Emily. That said, I do respect those who have taken their exposure to the next level - it's just not for everyone!

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