Privacy is dead?

I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy since facebook’s Zuckerberg declared that “privacy is over.”
First of all, a little about the ways in which I use social media:

  • In the mid-1990s, I posted prolifically my own poetry and writing on at least 3 different “bulletin boards
  • I was an eager early-ish adopter of facebook (most of my friends were still in college and raving about it).
  • I’ve participated in Red Cedar Writing Project’s blog, as well as had my own teaching blog and mommy blog.
  • I’ve used a variety of photo and video sharing sites for both professional and personal uses
  • In short, I am an eager adopter of the idea of creating content online sourced from my own life and expertise.

I think it is important to note the value of words in context.  While this is often used as an excuse (i.e.”That statement was taken out of context,”), I do believe that context is important.  A social event at a bar with close friends will elicit different statements than a keynote speech at a large convention.  We have different standards for what we say and what we find acceptable depending on the context.  For me, facebook began as a purely social context and I was uncomfortable when my students joined, friended me, and then harassed me about ignoring their requests (here’s a great response on why teachers SHOULD friend their students).  What I’ve come to recognize is that, for me, while I don’t feel I have anything to hide on my facebook page, I had better double-check every tweet, status update, blog post, etc to make sure that I am representing myself online as I am offline.  That is to say: I need to be authentic no matter what the medium.  People will surely disagree with some, most, or all of my opinions that I scatter about the interweb and the coffee shop, but whether or not I cause dissent is not my main concern.  My main concern is that I conduct myself in a way that causes no harm (to myself or to others),  no matter where I am, no matter who is watching.

Unfortunately for Adolescent Andrea, the standards to which I held myself are far different than the ones which I toe today. Adolescent Andrea thought that if someone had a problem with her writing or posts (no matter how embarrassing) that was their problem, not hers.  Adolescent Andrea didn’t care who knew what about her shenanigans, and Grown-up Andrea is a little red-faced about slivers of conduct back in her college days.  Of course, I’m a mom now, a professional, with a career and I don’t go about partying until the wee hours as I once did.

But I worry for those students who had once tried to friend me on facebook: I didn’t want to see the pictures of them partying or kissing their significant others.  Now that embarrassing pictures are search-able, burned forever onto the network, I worry that our reality culture, our navel-gazing “What are you doing now?” culture will entice a whole generation of teenagers to gleefully post things that they will later regret.  I know I would have.  Thank goodness that those teenage angst poems aren’t easily found from my bulletin board days.  I shudder.  Additionally, I don’t post pictures of my kids in public forums generally because I believe that they have their own decisions to make about their privacy when they get older.  I don’t want to have made that decision for them.

In the end, I really like my privacy.   I like segmenting my networks into different levels of intimacy that I share with my fellows in those networks.  But I sometimes wonder if I am swimming against the tide on this one.

So: do you friend your students? Your parents?  How do you decide what to post about yourself?  About others?  What about pictures?  How do you view your privacy online?  Does the context of the social network change how you interact with it?