Privacy and blogging

Boingboing links to a dead interesting piece on facebook and privacy. It’s something I think about a lot. Well, not facebook, which I currently avoid as actively as I avoid twitter, but privacy and blogging.

Because it happens frequently that my ideas about privacy and those of others do not line up. Fer instance, I never blog about the stuff I hold to be private, which includes most of what’s going on with me offline, except as it relates to my writing career, and even then I share only what can be publicly shared. Thus you don’t hear about my selling a new book until the contract is signed. Which means an interminable wait between my knowing that a book is sold and my telling you. Whereas I have seen writers blog the very first offer.

It goes the other way too. I blogged about how much I earned last year because I think it’s important that wannabe writers are acquainted with just how little a reasonably successful full-time writer earns.1 I know several writing bloggers who are appalled that I shared my income. I also blog sometimes about when the writing is not going well. Again there are writing bloggers who think that’s way too private to ever share.

But that side of the privacy issue is easy. We bloggers blog what we want to blog. We’re in control. If we think something’s too private for blogging then we don’t blog it. What we don’t have control over is what our friends and family choose to share in the comments thread. I have had friends bring up stuff I consider deeply personal in comments. I delete those comments. But even so, sometimes those comments are up for quite awhile before I see and destroy them. *Shudder*.

Less egregious are the friends and acquaintances who use comments to say, “Hi, how are you doing? We should get together.” I write and say, “Hey, you have my email address. I love you but what are you doing putting stuff like that in a comments thread about the end of publishing as we know it?”

It feels to me like an etiquette breach. If we haven’t seen each other in ages and you want to reconnect—email me. There’s a contact form on every single page of this blog. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you post in comments something that is of no interest to anyone but you or me then it should be an email, not a comment.

My blog is my public face. It’s a place to discuss a wide variety of topics—books, writing, publishing, Elvis, mangosteens, quokkas and so on and so forth. I expect people to stay on topic and the vast majority of folks do. Tis why I love my blog. The people who comment here seem to have the exact same notions of blogging etiquette that I do. Bless you all!

Note: I am not saying this to remonstrate with anyone. When my friends do this I call them on it and they apologise and never do it again. They are quick learners. Or, you know, tolerant of my eccentricities. Just as when I do stuff that bugs them they call me on it and I attempt never to do it again2. It’s a beautiful thing.

However, I keep being made aware that many, many, many others don’t think about blogging in the same way I do. They are surprised when I mention my feelings about this. They think I have a major stick up my arse. “If you want to keep your life private,” they ask, “why do you blog?”

There are many people who live their entire lives online. They share. In my opinion they massively overshare. But, hey, it’s their blog they can do what they want with it.3 Some also mark their blogs as a place with an in crowd, who can talk personally with the blogger, and whose comments always get a response. When the blogger in question has a public career as a writer or an artist or a musician or what have you I wonder how appealing that makes the blog to potential readers. Do they feel shut out? I know I am never tempted to comment on such a blog.4

What do you lot think? Am I a fuddy duddy? No, don’t answer that! What are your thoughts about privacy and blogging? How do you feel when a personal discussion takes place on a blog that you went to cause you like the blogger’s music or art or writing?

  1. Sure some earn heaps more, but not many. []
  2. Though sometimes I fail cause I am not as quick a learner as they are. []
  3. And I confess that there are some extremely personal oversharing blogs that I’m deeply addicted to. []
  4. I try hard to make this blog as inviting and non-in-group-y as I can. In the olden days I would respond to almost every comment. Sadly, I am no longer able to do that. Though I am still more likely to respond to comments by people I don’t know than I am to comments by the known. []


  1. E. Kristin Anderson on #

    I used to blog my personal life when I was first in college. It caught up to me pretty quick and have kept private things mostly private since. I’ve decided that if I wouldn’t tell a complete stranger what I’m blogging face to face, or if I wouldn’t want an acquaintance to know this personal detail, it should be left out of my online life.

    There are a few things I force myself to share, though. I have bipolar disorder and I do sometimes discuss that – not the personal details of a high or a low, but what it’s like dealing with it, recovery, etc. I think it’s important to talk about mental illness in order to break social stigma.

    I actually have a separate blog for personal un-interesting stuff that just my friends are interested in, and I have it that way because the readers of my more writerly blog don’t care about what my cats are doing or that my parents are in town or what I’m making my boyfriend for Christmas.

    What scares me, though, is that when you put truly personal stuff out there – your hook-ups, breakups, work life & home life – you don’t have anything left for yourself and you can TOTALLY lose touch. Even if I were unhappy with my job I would never say so online. Employers GOOGLE staff and applicants all the time now, I don’t want anything there that would make me look bad.

    I am sometimes annoyed when I get a random comment like “hi how are you” on a blog I wrote about something I think is important and interesting, but I find it not so much rude as obnoxious. Internet etiquette is so subjective that I have a hard time holding anything like that against a person.

    I don’t think you’re a fuddy-duddy though. I think everyone blogs for different reasons, and I come to your blog to read about writing and books – and that’s what you write about. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  2. smartass on #

    If I knew you I would be tempted to say sometthing personal. I do not so I will instead agree with you.

  3. Justine on #

    E. Kristin Anderson: It does astonish me how many people either don’t think about the possible side effects of sharing way personal details or simply don’t care.

    smartass: Makes me glad I don’t know you! 🙂

  4. Shveta on #

    I’m like you, Justine; I keep most of my personal life offline. If for some reason I want to share something more intimate, I lock the entries. But it’s mostly about writing and more “public” information for me.

  5. Malcolm Tredinnick on #

    Your positions sounds eminently reasonable to me, Justine. Possibly because it more or less matches my own. What I blog about is what I choose to make public. It isn’t a sacrifice of all my privacy and it isn’t comprehensive coverage. It’s exactly the bits I want to share.

    Now, would you mind to please stop getting into my head and stealing my blog posts, since I already have half a draft written about online social connections and this is annoyingly close to the same topic.

  6. Sherwood on #

    I figure no one is interested in my daily round, so I see no reason to Twitter it. Do people really want to know how often others visit the dentist, and when they do their laundry? Well, maybe they do, but I don’t, so I don’t blog that stuff. I also don’t blog about my family without permission.

    Blogging for me is a conversation about subjects that interest me–admittedly a magpie variety. It’s not an online diary, though many feel that an online diary is just what they want to share with the world.

  7. Herenya on #

    I recently told a friend that I see blogs as a case of “It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to”. We were talking about blogs where access is restricted to a limited number of people, (and whether it’s okay to on about things ad nausuem,) but I think the same thing applies to how much one does or doesn’t share in one’s blog.

    I don’t see blog as meaning “all the personal details of my life”, so I’m not surprised when people choose to keep things private. And I’ve visited blogs of writers and been entertained by personal stories they have shared, because they’ve written about them in an interesting way. Even then, I thought there was the sense they still weren’t sharing absolutely everything.

    As for myself, most of my blog is “locked” and even then I don’t use real names, mention exactly where I live, or share details I’m uncomfortable with my friends knowing about. The non personal stuff is what I make public.

  8. Annalee Flower Horne on #

    I’m in a slightly different boat than you because my main “blog” is a livejournal. I do use it to keep up with friends about stuff that’s going on in my life that wouldn’t interest people who don’t know me. But even then, I maintain a “stranger, acquaintance, or employer” rule about what I do and don’t post, and in public posts, I talk about my job as if I’m speaking to a reporter on the record (I’m an intern in the kind of office where that’s a concern).

    I have friends that’ll post about the arguments they have with their spouse, their sex lives, really personal medical stuff, etc. I can’t imagine putting all that out on the internet like that. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve got a friend that will delete a comment from their blog if it mentions so much as their gender, and asks their friends to edit out references to them on our own blogs. In that particular case, I really do wonder why they blog if they don’t want people knowing anything about them.

  9. Ju on #

    This makes sense to me – I am someone who blogs quite personally, and mostly I do that as part of trying to talk about the stuff we ‘shouldn’t talk about, even if it’s personal for me – but then, I don’t actually have a need to maintain a professional separate face,I imagine that if I did I would probably have to consider how I did things and whether I’d continue the way I do currently.

  10. Patrick on #

    I think I figured it out. You sent Scalzi an email with a giant CC: list and he commented off topic on your blog about it.

    He deleted the email and then blogged it. You deleted the comment and then blogged it.

    It is all clear now. Stop doing that to each other.

  11. angharad on #

    I once came across a blog post in which a young woman posted pictures of her walk to work, including “this is the dark street I walk by myself on every other night at four in the morning. isn’t it spooky?” I dithered for a while and then decided I had to say something. I pointed out that I could identify the street just from clues in her blog and I didn’t think it was a safe thing to post about. She blew me off–very much the “I know what I’m doing and it’s nobody’s business but mine” response. Which was fine. She didn’t have to do anything, but *I* had to say something. And I’m not going near that blog again.

  12. Julia Rios on #

    Although I blog about a variety of topics, I am very much of the “if it is online, it is totally public” school of thought. That said, I will post certain things (e.g. drafts for critique) to locked groups on the understanding that they aren’t for public consumption, but that’s still not quite the same as what you call oversharing. I do belong to Facebook, and I do have some personal contact info posted there for only friends to see, but I don’t ever make status updates or comments on other friends’ pages that I wouldn’t like being public knowledge.

    So, no, I think you are completely reasonable in wanting to keep your private life private (though I don’t think I’ve ever gotten upset with a friend for posting an off topic comment).

  13. JJ on #

    I first started blogging in high school and I was conscious of keeping private details private because OMG WHAT IF MY PARENTS FOUND IT???? If you want to include private details about your life on a blog, that’s all well and good I suppose, but then there’s really no difference between your blog and a private diary is there?

    For a while, especially in college, I had a lot of private details online, but in locked entries before I thought that it was silly to have a public writing medium that allowed only limited access. Therefore I only blog what I’m comfortable telling to a complete stranger (I’m a fairly open individual).

    What does that include? Mostly opinions. A review of a play, a movie, books (I read a lot, so books get a lot of discussion), thoughts about what I like in books and love and life. In many ways I blog because I have to, the same way I write because I have to. Blogging is a form of expository writing I enjoy.

  14. stacy on #

    This is why I have two blogs, actually. I started a personal one years ago to keep in touch with close friends who lived across the country. We all blog, and mostly they’re all friends-locked livejournal entries. Anything I post to the public on that LJ is something I wouldn’t mind anyone knowing, but that LJ isn’t googleable and few people know or care about that one.

    The other one is the one I link to any comments I make on other blogs, and that’s the one where I talk professional stuff and occasionally post things about my personal life that I don’t mind anyone knowing (mostly random funny pictures of my cats or relatively bland stuff like that). The cats probably bore people more than anything. Basically, I would never talk about anything on my professional blog that I wouldn’t say to coworkers.

  15. Sir Tessa on #

    When it comes to other people’s blogs, I approach them the same way I approach most conversational/public forums on the internet – I lurk, and do so until I think I’ve got all the unspoken do/do nots down pat, and abide by them. I treat them like I treat unknown people with suspicion and malignance and try not to step on toes right away.

    When it comes to my blog…well…I know what lines I don’t want to cross, and I don’t cross them. I don’t really know what my own blog is for, but I have fun with it, and that’s enough.

    Blogs are versatile, and anyone can come up with their own definition of Wot Their Blog Is. I suppose it’s easy to forget that.

  16. G on #

    Interesting post. I discuss this frequently and think that next year I will move to WordPress so that I can maintain private pages. At the moment, my blog is a public diary and therefore I never post anything I wouldn’t be comfortable with my mother, an employer, or a stranger reading. That’s why I am anonymous and try quite hard to be non-Googleable.I also don’t link my (identifiable) Facebook or include photos of adults as I think face Googleing is not too far away. I request that friends don’t post open photos, or tag us in an open Flickerstream for that reason. What I share is tightly controlled, even though I do share quite a bit.

    As for “public” blogs, of writers, etc. Yes, I dislike when they are treated as cliquish hangouts. I don’t go back to non-welcoming spaces like that. I also delete all comments with identifiable personal info and I think it’s silly that those individuals don’t just e-mail me at my listed address.

    I enjoy your blog and several other writers’ blogs and I don’t expect to know any more of the details of their lives than any fan/acquaintance: I think your understanding of blogging is pretty close to my own. On the other hand, I am fine with however open others choose to be about their own lives and I read blogs that I would never write. Sometimes, however, the over sharing (and the knowledge that gives me of their characters)makes me stop reading a blog…

  17. Owldaughter on #

    Very interesting indeed. I have two blogs, one my pro writer journal (used for periodic updates) and web site, and one my personal blog and site, under different names. (The personal one is the alter-ego pen name I’ve used ever since I went on-line years ago, which amuses me because people usually do it the other way around.) I try to maintain the ‘what would I be comfortable talking about with an employer/relative stranger’ and respect my general rule of what constitutes TMI in my regular journal. I talk about my daily writing stuff on my public alter-ego blog, but use different titles or project names, and it’s mainly logging of progress for my own purposes anyway.

  18. sara z. on #

    I addressed this very topic at the kidlit bloggers con a few months ago – balancing the personal and professional on your public blog. I think being a LITTLE personal is good and keeps readers coming back and helps create a blog with a real voice, but the trick is to almost create an illusion of being personal. That isn’t to say being fake, but “personal” doesn’t have to mean airing your deepest fears and insecurities and relationship issues. In your case, the mangosteens/quokka dynamic creates a sense of you being personal—it makes me, the reader, think, “Oh, I feel like I know Justine. She’s Team Zombie.” This is very different from knowing your actual personal stuff, but it’s also very different from knowing nothing other than what books you’ve written. It’s painfully obvious when blogs are only used to promote books, and those blogs are not fun to read. Being selectively personal is a good thing, methinks, but really it’s about creating a blog with a voice that is authentically you if not revealingly you. People feel like my blog is personal, and at times, it is, but in truth there is so much I DON’T blog…I feel well-protected.

  19. Kath on #

    I think you’re being perfectly reasonable. Blogging to share information or opinions is one thing; but you’re right, there are a lot of people who seem desperate for attention or validation and blog or twitter or whatever about EVERYTHING.

    There is nothing on my own blog that I would not be willing to discuss with a reader 1:1. However, my blog is only available to people I know, which makes a difference. My Facebook page is available to anyone who wants to be my “friend”; if I allow someone to view the page they’ll get random musings and occasional pictures of the dogs, or a comment about the weather. I would not be comfortable putting myself out there like that; I don’t think it’s emotionally healthy.

    If I were a successful writer, I like to think I’d blog about topics very much like the ones you already discuss. The information you share about your process and your struggles and yes, even how much money you make, paints a very realistic picture that I think is valuable for someone who wants to write as a profession.

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