Friday, July 15, 2005

Barefaced blogging

Since our recent discussions on bloggers being fired "for blogging", I've been thinking a lot about what people post on their blogs and why. So I read with interest this article from about teenagers and college kids who make ill-advised, shockingly personal blog entries:

Blogs are everywhere — increasingly, the place where young people go to bare their souls, to vent, to gossip. And often they do so with unabashed fervor and little self-editing, posting their innermost thoughts for any number of Web surfers to see.

Hey, it's not just teenagers. Many of us oldsters have said things online that we shouldn't have. And we haven't done it on just our own blogs, but on others' blogs and on public message boards.

Surveys completed in recent months by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that nearly a fifth of teens who have access to the Web have their own blogs. And 38 percent of teens say they read other people's blogs.

By comparison, about a tenth of adults have their own blogs and a quarter say they read other people's online journals.

That's still quite a few adults, and a lot of them are posting some excruciatingly personal things about themselves. Teenagers are usually forgiven when they act like teenagers, so I think the article is overstating the case a little by suggesting that a college kid's drunken blog entries of a couple of years ago might limit her employment opportunities now. But we grown-ups don't have any excuse for some of the stupid things we've said online.

We often forget that once we post something on the internet, it's there forever. We have no control over who reads it, quotes it, or links to it. Once something is said, it can't be unsaid. Have you ever written anything foolish or snarky on a message board because you were overtired or ticked off or drunk? Even if it happened three years ago, somebody could be reading that right now. Does it give you a little shiver to think that your current boss, a prospective employer, your mother, the man you've just started dating, or the guy who's stalking your teenage daughter might be reading your careless words?

A while back I visited the blog of a woman who shared with her readers the details of a fight she'd had with her husband. What she wrote didn't flatter her spouse and it made her look churlish. Why would somebody post that on a blog? I'm guessing she was tired and angry and just didn't stop to think that she wasn't writing in a personal journal or confiding to her sympathetic girlfriends, but broadcasting her rant to the world.

I've been on the internet for years, and I have certainly posted a few things I'd like to take back. Oh, nothing horrible; I've learned a lot from watching others make some shocking gaffes. So these days I am acutely aware that what I write here and on my website and on public message boards can't be amended or rescinded. I'm not always as careful as I should be, but I'm working on that.


Anonymous said...

I could be more careful myself. It's not always a good idea to be so forthcoming online, and not just because you can say something incredibly dumb (which we are all likely to do), but because there are insane-psycho folks out there who can get enough on you to stalk you and make you miserable for months or years (seen this happen).

I had an email loop and message board pal go starkers. I mean paranoid starkers. It surprised a lot of us. You never know who that person is you're communicating your life with. I had a couple of friends have to deal with a genuine mental case raver in a critique group. It's' not always easy to rid one's electronic life of the lunatics.

I'm on a few listservs (five or so). Sometimes people seem really normal, then they post something that tips you off that they might be quite emotionally unstable, and you know to be very wary or leave. I've left a couple of listservs when the wacko element surfaced. Mostly, it's the subversive "wacko", the one who likes to start civil wars and pit one person against another, and behind the scenes manipulate with private emails. I've seen them operate, and I suspect there is great evil behind that kind of need to wreak emotional havoc.

I think if I were an employer, I wouldn't hold old posts against someone. We all have bad days. Well, unless the post was really postal and a sign of serious psychosis with rants like, "And then the green giant bunny told me to kill the leader of every G-8 nation before the world blows up." You know, that sort of thing. Or they post love poems to Osama Bin Laden. That would make a difference.

But just bad day rantings....ah, we're human.

Valerie Comer said...

Hi Brenda :) I do read over here most days, but you may have noticed, if you even remembered I exist ;) )that I don't post a comment often.

I think this is a valid point. Many of us who read your posts are writers, and I think many of THOSE are unpublished to this point in time. Everything I say online is easily discovered by an agent or publisher to whom I may choose to submit material in the future. This is something I've been very aware of since coming online and joining the blogging and forumming world a couple of years ago.

Brenda Coulter said...

In most cases, I don't think employers or editors or agents would bother looking somebody up online. But you never know, do you?