We did a class exercise recently in which I had the students find out everything they could about one another via the Internet and Social Media. It was disturbing how much information they could glean about one another, simply by trolling online.
Out of a class of 30 plus students, the privacy of only two or three students remained intact. Information on all the others was readily available . Seemingly private information — like what they ate for breakfast on Dec. 10, 2011, to the names of best friends, best pets, siblings, grandparents, exes, home addresses, phone numbers, all available in 12-point font.
I could hardly lecture them about the finer points of privacy given my own propensity to invite readers into the most intimate of details about my life. I will confess to you that after my mother’s dying, I thought long and hard about calling this blog quits. I have been torn about walking away from all forms of online interaction.
It isn’t you. It’s me.
You have been terrific, especially during my mother’s dying. So many of you sent cards. So many of you prayed for her, for me, for all of us. I appreciate all of that and still do.
But I remain troubled by the realization that what gets attention online isn’t the sacred, but the controversial.
It is the same thing that has always troubled me about media, online or otherwise. When I worked as a journalist I could spend months investigating a story, and did many times, but the one story I did that sparked international, yes, international interest, was the story of a woman who lost 800 pounds. It took me less than two hours to interview her and write up that story. She wanted the state to pay to get her fat lap removed. They did. Here’s the story I wrote after her surgery.
But back to issues of privacy.
Whether or not you are a writer like me, or some other public figure, or not, there’s likely a lot of information about you online that if you really sat down and thought about it you might consider it an invasion of privacy.
For the most part, the information out there on me I have put out there. I have no one to blame but myself. Unlike former President George W. Bush nobody hacked into my personal emails and published them online.
I winced when I read the stories about Bush’s personal correspondence. It was particularly appalling to me that somebody would think that it was perfectly okay to publish the emails exchanged between the Bush siblings over Bush Sr.’s recent illness. I’m not even going to link to the articles because that’s how upset it makes me that some online creeper would hack into another’s personal correspondence and share some of the most private of all family matters — the health of a family member.
I shared my walk with Mama in a very public way. That was my choice. It was done in concert with Mama. She loved knowing that you all were out there, praying for her, caring for her.
Without question being a former president does make one a public figure. But that does not entitle the public to every private detail of that public servant’s life.
This is the ugly side to living life out loud — people will trample right over you.
My heart goes out to the Bush family. I hate this for them. I hate it for all of us.
It seems to me that we are running the risk of trading in something very scared for something very profane.
I miss the days when hacking meant a bad cough.
What steps do you take, if any, to protect your privacy?
What do you think ought to be the punishment for the individual who hacked into Bush’s personal email?