In a recent post on my personal blog, I made note of the changes that our world has seen in terms of work philosophies. However, in that post I commented about how social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has transformed our world into something that no longer resembles the world that I grew up in. Systems such as Skype and Google Hangouts have bridged the gap between continents so that those on opposite sides of the world can do more than just talk to one another over the phone — they can now see each other, have a face-to-face conversation. It was something that was proposed in science fiction, but society as a whole never believed that such a thing could be possible. When I was a child, it wasn’t.
This new world of ours is filled with so many dangers that no one has really had to think about until now. As a mother of two teenagers, it’s my responsibility to teach my children to navigate the treacherous waters ahead of them. But how can I teach them to swim safely through the world of social media and the Internet when I’m still learning myself?
As a writer and freelance editor, I must maintain a public profile — this blog is part of that. However, we all like to have a certain amount of privacy. In the past, writers could easily make the division between the private and public, but with the industry’s expectation that writers have a public presence prior to publication, we writers must handle this with care.
For some writers, the separation of the private and public is achieved through a pseudonym, a pen name. For myself, I have chosen to publish under my real name. Before starting down this journey into being a full-time writer and freelance editor, I was a published research scientist. I’m proud of my scientific publications. Why would I want to hide these achievements by using another name? But what impacts does this have on my public presence?
For things such as Twitter, Google+ and the blog, I’m fortunate. I never used these things privately. My Twitter account was started when I realised that agents and publishers frequently communicated their wishlists through Twitter, among other things. The blog was started as part of my writer’s website — a journal of my personal journey toward becoming a published author. Google+… Well, that came with the email address that I set up for this whole adventure.
For me, Facebook was where the biggest danger existed. I have had a Facebook account for many, many years, started before my daughter was born. With my husband having family in the Netherlands, my family being in the USA, and close friends located in throughout New Zealand and Australia, Facebook became the perfect medium for sharing those cherished photos of our children as they grew up. Now, I have a public writer’s page, but with the decision to publish under my real name, it meant that my public page and my private account had similar names. While this in itself is not a bad thing, I can guarantee it would eventually drive me mental with the number of “friend requests” that one could potentially receive. Let’s face it, this is why writers set up a public page in the first place. I’m only just starting within the industry and already the number of “friend requests” is getting to me. However, I have an unwritten rule that I follow religiously: if I don’t know you personally, or I can’t trace exactly how we might be related, I won’t accept your friend request. It’s photos of my children on my Facebook. While I do share some of those photos on my blog, I’d like to respect my children’s privacy.
I hold no delusions of grandeur, but cyber-stalking is a real thing and can be very dangerous. It’s true that if someone really wants to hack into the systems, they can obtain any information that they might want about me — my home address, my phone number, even my bank account number if they were that desperate — but why should I make it easy for the Average Joe? So, off I go, and I recently changed the name used on my personal Facebook account to my married name. It’s not like I’m hiding anything, the photos on both my private and public pages are still me and not some strange image that you wonder where it came from. I will likely still have “friend requests” from those who I don’t know from a bar of soap, but at least the average fan will get the hint: private means private.
However, there are some other pitfalls that the unsuspecting writer can fall into, leaking information that they didn’t want to without even realising. This brings me to the purpose behind this post: highlighting the pitfalls of social media so all who want a separation between the private and public can avoid them.
As mentioned above, there is always an issue with having a public page under a similar name to your private profile. Solution: change your private profile, but also ensure that you change the “username” too. This is the name that gets attached to the web address of your private profile. You can find this setting under “General Account Settings”. However, once your change your private profile name and username, you will be faced with another issue with Facebook. Only private profiles can join groups. If you’re like me, you’re a member of quite a few groups, some are for writing and others aren’t. It comes down to what is a public group, a closed group, or for secret squirrels only. You will need to chose what you’re happy to have your private profile publicly associate with and what you’re not.
For me, if it’s writing related and it’s public… No go.
On the plus side, for other public pages, you get to chose which profile you use to comment with: your private profile or public persona.
Be careful about what other information you enter into the system. With the introduction of smart-phones, mobile numbers on profiles has become the norm; cellphone are used as the method of recovery if one forgets their password. However, for public pages, it is a personal choice as to whether your contact numbers and email are listed. Make that choice wisely.
Something else that unsuspecting users of Facebook should be aware of: a visitor to your page doesn’t need to “LIKE” your page to read it. They need to “LIKE” the page to comment only. However, you can lock down the page such that you as the page manager are the only one who can post and/or comment, or a middle ground. On my own author’s page, I’m the only one who can post new material, but comments are open to the public. Do keep in mind that if you feel that a comment is inappropriate, as the page manager, you do have the ability to delete the comments.
So many of us now have Google accounts. If you have Gmail, then you have a Google account. When you create one of these, it asks for a cellphone numbers for recovery verification and an alternative email address. Now here’s the thing. When you connect in your Google+, which you have to do separately, some of this information can leak across, as can some of your contacts’ information in your address book. What you need to do is view the profile as the public would to ensure that what is listed is correct and private information hasn’t leaked across. To do this, go to the “View Profile as” dropdown menu and select the “Public” option. Make any changes necessary to your profile to remove anything that you don’t want the public to see.
If you have a WordPress website, then you will likely have one of these accounts. It is also used by a variety number of other sites, including news sites, and hence you need to be extremely careful as to what information you load into your profile on this site. Just because it looks all good from the WordPress end, there might be something that you have added that came from some other site. The issue here is that just editing your profile will not necessarily edit your Gravatar.
To view your Gravatar profile, you need to visit gravatar.com/USERNAME/, where USERNAME is your WordPress user ID.
From here, you can see exactly what is connected to your Gravatar profile. Be warned now, connecting Facebook to your Gravatar will connect your private profile, not your public page. If you want to link your public Facebook page, then you will need to add this as a separate website.
Everything that you post on Twitter is public, unless you have marked your profile as “private”, which defeats the purpose. So be careful about what information you put out on Twitter. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.
All other systems — Instagram, Pintrist, Tumbler, etc — all have their flaws with their profiles. If in doubt, get a friend that you know and trust to check over everything you have and point out anything that they see. Just a general safety thing: make sure that any photos you post on any social media don’t show your house number or license plate number. This is information that the general public just doesn’t need.
One golden rule with any social media: it doesn’t matter how “private” something professes to be, there will always be loopholes in the system and some information will get leaked. NEVER put anything on any form of social media, public or private, that you wouldn’t be comfortable with if it was ever leaked. Trust me, if you ever make it big, there will be people out there looking for dirt, and they will find it. Don’t make it easy for them.
And for those paranoid about hackers… Some social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, offer a 2-tier login system. Basically, you login with your password, then you get sent a text on your cellphone with a code that you need to enter too. I don’t use these myself, I’m not that paranoid, but I also don’t post things that I wouldn’t be comfortable if it was ever made public. If people really want to see the nude photo of my son when he was a baby… Whatever.
Regardless, as long as you are aware of the dangers associated with social media, then things like Facebook and Twitter are a great way to build a fan-base for any writer.
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2015