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Knowing When and Why to Keep Your Most Personal Issues Offline

overshare, internet privacy, what to blog about

Remember: the Internet is not your best friend!

A lot of Babble bloggers have been diving into the concept of ‘oversharing’ lately. In this post about the things her eldest son wishes she hadn’t blogged about, Lori Garcia says she and her 9-year-old have come up with a set of guidelines which help maintain his privacy. Mom Crunch’s Cecily K. interviewed bloggers to find out what topics they absolutely won’t talk about online. And John Cave Osborne wrote a great essay last week about oversharing with a purpose, i.e. exposing the difficulties of your life for the greater good.

Ten years ago you had to have a blog to be an online oversharer. Blogs felt more anonymous back then; they weren’t filled with splashy photos and video of their proprietors, they were just online dairies, read mostly by people you knew in real life and maybe a few members of the online community. Now, the anonymous blogger – though they still exist – is a rare find, since blogging is all about the glorification of self. Bloggers and even the average Facebook user openly boast about their triumphs, but what happens when things start to go wrong in a person’s life? I’m not talking about the everyday tribulations we all experience. I’m talking about an intense, tumultuous, life-altering event, like a divorce or your 14-year-old daughter’s first breakup. Is it wrong to share? That depends.

In his essay, John singles out a few of his favorite bloggers as people who “offer up some … intimacy in the name of a greater good.” That seems to be a smart axiom by which to determine if something is worth sharing online; if what I’m posting will serve some sort of greater good, then it’s okay.

But of course, when a person is in pain, they often feel they need the kind of help that can only be derived by demanding something from the Universe. And what better way to get the Universe’s attention than via the Internet! People view the Internet as Universe, as friend, as confidant and as teacher without thinking critically about it, because THAT’S WHAT THE INTERNET WANTS US TO DO. It has been suggested that the Internet runs on videos of babies and kitties, but really, the Internet runs on your willingness to erode your own privacy. No joke. Therefore, bloggers – and all Internet users for that matter – need to bear in mind that private channels still exist, even though we’ve conditioned ourselves to crowdsource for answers and comfort. Especially when really sensitive matters are involved.

I say this as an “oversharer,” someone who has blogged about her divorce, her sex life and so much unimportant minutiae (like kid poop). Because I have been writing online for nearly a decade (wow, even I’m shocked to see myself type that) I can tell you, echoing the words of the bloggers who Cecily K interviewed as well as Lisa Belkin’s thoughts: there are sooooooo many things I have not shared publicly. And what I have shared, for example, about the circumstances that led to my divorce, I shared well after I was divorced, for my own healing process as well as the greater good. Now, trust me: I realize that I could possibly have become a bonafide Internet celeb had I been writing about my divorce as it was happening, because misery loves company (and invites mockery). And still, in the aftermath – at least once a day – I want to plug in to my beloved Internet/Universe and scream, “This is what this man is doing! This is why it has to stop! Lord Jesus Internet Kittehs hear my prayer!” But I don’t, because it’s ill-advisable. Not just to avoid being branded that girl but also from a legal standpoint.

To be sure, there are plenty of people blogging about divorces and the subsequent custody and child support issues attached while they’re happening. You’ll remember Alaina Giordano, the North Carolina mom with breast cancer who lost her kids in a custody battle with her ex and who turned to the Internet for support. In the end, the judge’s decision stood, no matter how much sympathy Giordano received from the court of public opinion. More recently, Internet personality Alana Joy outed her baby daddy after he refused contact with her. Joy is pregnant and has been shunned by the man responsible, which as any Babble reader will certainly be able to imagine has to be extraordinarily frustrating and hurtful. Despite the fact that based on my own personal experiences with difficult people, I believe Joy’s story and sympathize with her, I don’t think she’s doing herself any good by taking such a private matter online. (The story is too complicated to summarize here, just go read her post and judge for yourself, because, you see, the story is online for your judgement, so you can do that! As these commenters have done. Thankfully, most are thoughtful and kind.)

It’s interesting to me that we’ve written so much about what to teach our children about how to engage on the Internet, and yet we sometimes forget that we’re all children when it comes to knowing how to behave on the Internet. This still very new technology that has allowed us to enjoy such a strong sense of community has also occasionally lulled us into thinking posting something online is as safe as sharing a secret with a best friend. Remember: the Internet is not your confidant, your lawyer, your doctor or your mother. It’s not the Universe. I love the transparency the Internet provides, but it’s important to remember that it’s a communication tool. And just like in real life, we have to think before we use it to speak.

Photo via Flickr

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