While reading posts about what others like to see in a blog, I often run across people saying they like when bloggers share personal information and stories. It helps them feel connected to the blogger, and it makes the blogger stand out as an individual, preventing them from getting lost in the crowd of “people who talk about books.” While I understand these arguments, and I enjoy hearing a bit about blogger’s lives myself, you may have noticed I’m not particularly forthcoming about my own life (though if you read the blog and comments regularly, you will be able to pick up snippets here and there). Here’s why:
I grew up in an age when the Internet was blossoming, and so were the dangers.
(You’ll notice right here I’m giving a hint about my age, though I’ve always had the general idea stated in my mini-bio in the sidebar.)
The primary rule of using the Internet when I was growing up was: Do not, under any circumstances, share any personal information. It was a rule reiterated by parents and teachers and stated clearly on interactive areas of the web. Sure, you could join a book forum and discuss how much you loved Harry Potter, but you were not ever to post information pertaining to how old you were, where you lived, where you went to school, etc. You even wanted to be careful disclosing such seemingly innocuous things like what color hair you had because you never knew what creep was into brunette girls and would target you.
Since the social media boom, I think people have become a lot more lax with sharing their personal information. As a society, we chronicle our lives on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more. I, too, have become somewhat freer with my information. (I do have a Facebook account, for instance.) Most of the sites I utilize are private, which is why I feel somewhat safer using them, even though I know they can be hacked. But the other reality is: I no longer really have control over what information about me goes online. Others post pictures of me on their social media accounts, pictures I may have no idea exist. And newspapers and schools are now online, too. If you had my full real name, you could easily piece together a picture of where I lived and what my interests were since middle school, based purely on articles from newsletters. You wouldn’t know my home address, but you could probably find where I work and accost me there next week.
Despite how scary that seems, I know the chances of someone stalking me from the Internet are slim—but that’s partially because I control what I can. Predators don’t target random people, usually. They target people they “know,” people they meet online and talk to often and form a “friendship” with. When their target discloses things like their address willingly, that’s when things go bad. And so, I’m private where I can be. I’ll gladly form friendships with other bloggers, but I’ll probably never reveal anything more specific than which part of the United States I live in, or what level of school or my career I’m at. It’s partially paranoia, but it’s also good Internet safety.
We’re entering an age where everything you do can follow you.
Every once in a while, an article crops up in the news about someone being haunted by something they once wrote. Sometimes, it’s not even that “bad.” Maybe a politician submitted an article to a college newspaper that espouses a view they disagree with today. Instead of thinking, “Hm, maybe they’ve changed as a person in three decades and hold different opinions,” people immediately assume they are flip-flopping and are professionally insincere. They immediately judge them.
So, while I will stand behind everything I write on this blog, I recognize there may come a day when I may not want to be immediately associated with it. I have expressed, for instance, my interest in the publishing industry. I am always upfront about my blog when applying to publishing positions, and publishers usually react positively. (I’ve even seen aspiring editors encouraged to start book blogs.) However, not every book review I write is glowing. Some books I dislike. And if I ever work with an author, the last thing I would want is for them to Google my name and be immediately confronted with a negative review of their book. No one expects editors/publishers to like every book ever written, but I believe there is some level of professional (and personal) courtesy that suggests you really shouldn’t tell authors directly you think they can’t write. It would definitely sour a working relationship.
I was following at least one book blogger who discontinued his blog for professional reasons. I don’t know what job he was hired for, but his boss suggested he shouldn’t be publicly discouraging people from reading certain books (presumably due to negative reviews), and he had to quit blogging. One day, this may be me. And though I could take down my blog and delete my Goodreads reviews, traces of things tend to remain on the Internet. So, again, I won’t be making the process of finding those traces easier by posting too much about my personal life.
I know I come across a little bit as that paranoid blogger who thinks “they” are going to come find her, but I also think Internet safety has become somewhat under-discussed in the past several years. I have friends who are teachers, for instance, who inform me they have one Internet safety presentation a year in their schools—and that their students generally fail to understand its importance. They’re scared for a week, determined to delete their public Instagram accounts, but return quickly to chatting with strangers and documenting their lives online.
Sometimes, we are like those middle school students, too. We think Internet privacy is no longer as big of a deal because everyone has their information online, or we think that nothing bad will ever happen to us, or we’re positive that we’ll have no regrets about what we post today tomorrow. In the end, however, we really don’t know where our lives will lead us, if a potential employer will find our book blogs and dismiss us because we enjoy genres they don’t, or if we’ll start a career where negative reviews could hurt us, or if a predator will pose as blogger “friend” and hurt us. We think we’re adults, and that we have handling this Internet thing down, but sometimes we don’t.
So while I don’t want to dismiss or discourage anyone who does enjoy writing personal posts (as I said, I like learning about my fellow bloggers as much as anyone!), I do want to remind everyone to be careful and safe, and to let you know you probably won’t be finding out much about the “real life” me soon.
Do you blog about personal information? How much do you share? What guidelines do you think bloggers should follow when talking about themselves online?