Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Public is the New Default

Has social media like Twitter and Facebook affected us in a good way or in a bad way? While this is up for debate, one thing is certain. Social media has changed society. It has clearly re-shaped the way we interact with others and has also helped our social circles transcend both time and distance. Do I really want to know what my grade 2 classmate is up to now?

The biggest effect that social media has had is just beginning to emerge and define itself - the changes to personal privacy boundaries. As we have begun to grasp the idea that anything posted on the Internet instantly becomes permanent (and in many cases the property of the hosting site), questions about our personal privacy (and property) have arisen. Do I really want all of my personal pictures to become a part of public record? Is it safe to "check in" to locations (via Foursquare and Facebook Places) to let people know my whereabouts at all times?

In the past, we led our lives in private, choosing what details of our lives we wanted to make public. With the evolution of social media, our lives are now public and we must choose what details we want to be private. Take, for instance, Facebook's current privacy settings. By default your personal information and images can be shared with others without your consent. You must actually modify those settings to protect and control your own information. Twitter is another example of how public our lives are. The US Library of Congress is digitally cataloging every public tweet since Twitter began.

I'm a huge fan of transparency, probably because I work in education, so the idea of having a public persona is not a big deal to me. I have nothing to hide (at least nothing I'll admit to). As an educator, we're held to a higher standard anyway (debate the validity of this amongst yourselves), so to me there is no difference between being "out in public" and being "online in public." Educators have a great understanding of the fine line between public and private because it is a regular topic of thought. This makes us perfect candidates for educating students on the subject, but I'll save that for another day.

Am I advocating shutting down your Twitter and Facebook accounts, banishing social media from your life? Absolutely not! I want to see the pictures you took on your trip to Romania last summer because I probably will never get to go there myself. I want to read those philosophical Tweets you come up with in the wee hours of the morning.

I say embrace social media and extend your social network, while remaining cognizant of which aspects of your life you're comfortable becoming permanently public. Worried about the negative? Be proactive with your digital footprint so people only find the positive.


  1. This is a really thought provoking article. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. The reality of social networking compels educators to engage. Opting out is no longer an option. Too many teachers and administrators have a misguided, ultra-conservative sense that, "As long as I don't subscribe to it, it won't affect me".

    For those among us, I ask: have you been to "Rate My Teacher.com lately"?

    Educators should not be opting out of web 2.0 or social networking technologies. We should be vigilant in cultivating our online presence. If we don't, the world will do it for us, intentionally or not. And we may not like the outcome.

    Two years ago, a good friend and colleague Google-searched his own name, only to find a host of sites and stories relating to an infamous serial killer of the same name. To re-claim his name and good standing in the educational community, he created a personal webpage, complete with pictures, academic achievements, and an electronic portfolio. Hardly a perfect solution, perhaps, but considerably better than doing nothing at all.

    Considering the influence of technology on society, I would fully expect to be able to learn more about a prospective hire online. Not finding ANYTHING about a person online begs an important question: "what has this person been doing for the past X years that I can't find anything about them online?"

    And if a prospective boss happens to check my Facebook page and see that picture of me drinking a beer at a BBQ on a hot summer day, maybe they'll get a more realistic sense of who I am as a person. And if they are comfortable with that, then maybe that's the type of boss I might actually want to work for. Those old dogs that would attempt to scare us off of blogging or Facebook do so out of sheer ignorance and a devastating lack of vision for educating today's youth.

  3. Great points, Anonymous! I agree with the idea that we should be "cultivating our online presence." Be proactive, instead of reactive.

    And your last paragraph is a homerun too! I like your comment about getting a "more realistic sense of who I am as a person." It's not about being some unattainably perfect human, rather, it is about sharing yourself as a whole so that prospective employers are able to judge whether you are someone that will fit their organization. I don't think I'd want to work for someone who took issue with me having the odd drink either!

  4. P.S. My sister shares the name of a Ted Bundy victim. Creepy...