Thursday, July 31, 2008

To Blog or not to Blog?

Sadly, no less than three of my favorite blogs have vanished in the course of the last month or so - their authors later explaining that they removed them because of privacy issues. Either people they knew - or, more worryingly, people they didn't - made comments or personal inquiries that left our bloggers deeply uncomfortable.

It's an issue that my wife and I have discussed recently and a little tête à tête between us nearly resulted in me shutting down my blog in frustration (I didn't like the idea of having to run every post past an unofficial censor before publishing.)

But the worrying thing is - Wifey had a point. Successful blogging means exposing yourself to every friend, acquaintance, stranger and nutjob on the Internet. Who knows what the result of that could be?

Many bloggers choose to blog anonymously - which gives them the delicious freedom to write about whatever they want. This is how bloggers like 'Belle Du Jour' and 'Girl with a One Track Mind' got started - writing about their steamy sex lives. However, anonymous blogging carries it's own dangers (as two of my deleted blogging pals discovered) when their real life friends and family discover their 'anonymous' blog and wind up with intimate and uncensored access to their most private (though public) thoughts.

Other bloggers, such as myself, choose to blog absolutely openly. This is great as it gives a way for friends and family to keep up to date with your adventures (or lack of them) and is perfect for an aspiring writer like myself, since blogging is self-publicity at it's most affordable.

The problem with a non-anonymous blog? Well, for a start you sometimes have to censor yourself. I don't write about particularly seedy topics, but I am well aware that whatever I write will eventually be read by my father.

Secondly - you can't hide from a blog. Once you've written something, it's out on Internet forever and there have been all sorts of stories about bloggers loosing their jobs after bitching about work on their blog - or losing out on employment when a 'google' search by a prospective employer brings up a blog filled with drunken debauchery.

If you're not blogging anonymously, you have to take ownership of everything you write and be prepared for anybody - absolutely anybody - to read it.

But most worryingly of all about a non-anonymous blog: How much of your personal information is available for everybody to see (and steal?)

This is what worried my wife, especially after the birth of our son. The blog of aspiring novelist Roland Hulme contained our names, a rough geological location, pictures of our friends and family and even personal information (e.g. a birthdate, gleaned from a 'happy birthday to me' post written on my birthday.)

Is it enough for somebody to steal my identity? Not by a long shot - and they'd have to wade through pages and pages of diatribes about religion and politics to get it. But it's enough information to make the typical Internet shenanigans (like rogue and offensive comments) seem worryingly personal.

Like, when my son was born, somebody left the delightful comment: "Argh another Ginge......get yourself sterilised. Hope the doctor slapped you."

First off - my son's not ginger. Secondly, as much as a comment like this would, in Great Britain, be considered 'harmless, just poking fun' it was pretty shitty for somebody to write.

So by blogging non-anonymously, you're potentially opening yourself up to all sorts of trouble. It was a comment on a public blog that caused the third of my blogging chums to shut up shop (at least temporarily.)

So I guess I can see why my wife would have concerns - and in some way, I share them.

But I think you have to end up taking the American approach to things when it comes to blogging. "If we leave now, the (Internet) terrorists have won!"

I enjoy blogging. I love the real-life and 'Blogosphere' friends I keep in contact with here. I love how some of the issues I discuss raise a lot of debate. I enjoy forcing myself to write every day and have been surprised at how my writing has generally improved as a result.

Blogging is an important part of my life. I'm a gratuitous self publicist and blogging gives me a chance to 'expose myself' to everybody without having to wear a dirty mac and run around frightening people in the park.

Blogging, for me, is an outlet for the tangled thoughts in my head. If I didn't publish them online, my wife would have divorced me long ago for trying to discuss McCain vs Obama in the bedroom.

But the recent spate of blogging casualties has made me reexamine the whole blogging phenomenon and I have to admit, I've noticed myself being a little more sensible about how much of my own life I share on the 'net.

You'll notice I refer to Wifey and Baby by rather unoriginal pseudonyms (like, erm, Wifey and Baby) rather than their real names. And I still avoid discussing hot button topics that might effect me at work (which is killing me, since there's an angry rant just begging to be written about a new development in the office.)

I think it's time to tone it down a bit - at least for a while. Sometimes we all need to 'dig in' and avoid the crossfire. After all, after more than two years of blogging, I don't want to become just another Internet statistic.

But don't worry. Militant Ginger will (touch wood) keep on delivering.


The Chronicles of a Fashionista in PDX said...

Good thing you didn't delete your blog! You're my inside scoop to politics and environmental concerns! Without you I wouldn't know what was going on (ever since Starbucks Guy came into my life I barely read or watch the news anymore! Although I have time for people's blogs hehehe).

And yes, I am very wary of leaking out too much information about myself. I try to generalize the area I live in, etc, and I sometimes post events that had happened days later instead of beforehand. I don't know. I might have a small case of paranoia, too. :)

Definitely a food for thought if I ever decide I want to "come out" of the blog closet and fully expose myself, though.

The Chemist said...

I had a little debate with myself before I put my picture in the profile that had previously been devoid of anything. I'm still "anonymous" since no one knows my name. The reason I put my own picture on my blog is because I want the freedom to put up pictures with myself in them without having to worry about repositioning props to cover my face. I find it disturbing when I see it on other blogs.

Also I'm very thick skinned. Twelve years of getting constantly picked on at school and I can walk barefoot on glass.

Suki said...

Glad you're still here :)
I had a fairly unpleasant experience on the blog a while ago, and well.. since then blogging has been decidedly different.
I'm not exactly fond of personally directed spiteful comments, so I don't give enough personal information any more. Honestly, I don't know why my readership(or commentership) has doubled since I made this change! But until the trolls become a real danger, I won't dream of quitting.
Yay for the Blogosphere :)

Leah said...

As someone who has had both a public and anonymous blog, I've encountered all of the things you're talking about personally.

Blogging is a seriously dangerous endeavor right now... as the worlds of personal life and public life get ever blurred by the incredible accessibility the internet offers.

I think my generation will be the first to truly test the waters, since we are only know entering the job market with 5 or 6 years of teenage internet history behind us.

It's one thing to get fired for your blog. It's another to not be able to get a job because of the blog you had when you were 15. And 17. And 21...

April said...

Oh Roland, please please please do not stop blogging. I totally understand if you ease up on the personal information, but all the other information you put out there is so enjoyable. Even if I disagree, I appreciate the fact that you get me thinking about things. I'll be totally honest with you, your writing had had a major influence on how I have decided to vote this year. I was on the fence for a long time, but your posts combined with research I was already doing helped me choose a side. I love your view of American life and your knowledge of our history. Please keep sharing all of that with us.

I do understand where wifey is coming from, especially now that baby is in the picture. My husband and I have had many conversations about revealing too much. I guess we sometimes forget there are crazies out there. And it can be a very small world.

Coffee Bean said...

Awesome post Roland!

belledame222 said...

Yes, imagine, random people on the Internets doing a drive-by, jumping right onto the tail end of a conversation on someone else's blog, saying assy things that one probably wouldn't say to someone's face and then cruising right on again. How vulgar of them, really.

yrs cordially,

stupid, shallow, etc. etc., Esq.