Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Be Cautious About Revealing Personal Details

A Wall Street Journal article today noted that it might be a problem when co-workers or bosses wanted to be your "friend" in an online social networking site like MySpace or Facebook. The problem, it seems, is that many of you are uncomfortable with the boss or co-workers seeing photos of you at a "kegger", or nearly naked on a beach.

I'm so happy to hear that.

Why? Because lately, I've had it up to here with people feeling like they should share every intimate detail of their lives, whether we want to know it or not. They call it "transparency." But the dictionary on my desk says that transparency is being "candid, open, easily understood." Still, I see people abuse this term daily. They use the word “transparency” to be naricissitic, rude, demeaning and immature. “I’m being transparent,” they say.


Don’t get me wrong. I like transparency. As a journalist, I want both private and public organizations to be candid with me, to be easily understood so that I can do my job. But I think we’re doing ourselves a real disservice to claim that our bad judgment is not just that, but is instead our being “transparent.”

Those responding to the WSJ article (http://forums.wsj.com/viewtopic.php?t=615) said that it was a matter of maturity -- anyone over the age of 24 shouldn't be doing Facebook or MySpace, anyway. Very good point. And, anyone who has a job must seriously consider how “transparent” they want to be. Another good point.

As I wrote in the blog discussion about transparency (http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/index.php/2007/07/05/the-boundaries-of-disclosure/ ) there’s no problem if you’re independently wealthy and need never be employed again. But if there’s a chance you’re going to be looking for work one day, or are currently employed, you need to tread very carefully when leaving your footprint online. It can, and will, be seen by professional colleagues somewhere, sometime.

Your willingness to be “transparent” online could very well be one of the biggest mistakes you make in your career. With so many things often out of our control – bad bosses, a tough job market, deranged co-workers – why would you hurt your future success simply because you couldn't keep from blabbing about matters best left private?

If you feel the need to be “transparent,” do so with close friends and family at a face-to-face gathering – or with your therapist. Tell your stylist about your personal problems, share with your best friend the story of how your boyfriend dumped you. Show your brother the photos of you doing kamikazes at a local bar with your partner. But, please, I beg you -- just don’t do it in an arena where professional contacts can see it.

Let’s add “common sense” to our definition of transparency.


Anonymous said...

I think many people still view the web as an anonymous forum, even if they are identified! It’s almost as if some posters believe that there is curtain over the internet that either hides them, or creates an alternative universe in which there are no ramifications. It’s just the internet, who cares? You can’t see the person reading it, so they can’t see you right?

As you say, baloney!

I always say that unless you feel comfortable saying it/showing it to your boss, clients and colleagues in person, don’t post it. Unless of course you are independently wealthy (or have a solid excuse for your behavior that involves some form of rehab).

Anonymous said...

I agree totally! I think everyone just wants to be Paris Hilton...famous for just being alive. But look where that got her! I'm embarassed when people at work reveal too much. I want to tell them that I'm a coworker, not their mother. Geez, people, have a little self respect!

Katie Konrath said...

I definitely agree with that. I've been using Facebook for years to stay in touch with my college and study abroad friends, and didn't feel comfortable about opening up my network to business contacts.

So, my solution was to simply get two Facebook accounts: one for friends and one for professional contacts. It seems to be working really well, and keeps my two lives separate (like they should be).