Privacy is one of the big concerns that we have lately, especially when it comes to the internet (not least because of proposed surveillance of internet usage). At the same time, there is a push to create an online identity professionally as well as personally. So if you have a personal online presence and a professional online presence, how do you deal? This can be especially true for professors. How open are you with your students? How much can they connect with you? What can you share on the internet and what might be inappropriate when considering your next performance review?
Professional use and personal use can sometimes happen with the same forms of media so many people run into the question of whether they want to keep their personal lives personal and if they do, how they should go about that. Some professors and instructors want to share their lives more openly but others prefer not to reveal a secret weakness for Cheezburger cats or an interest in wine-making. Your online presence as a professor does reflect on the University (check out the U of R social media guidelines for more info) so keep that in mind.
So if you are thinking about the issue of retaining some privacy, here are a few things to consider without giving up on an internet presence:
- Take a few minutes to determine your online identity. This doesn’t mean you need to be like a superhero and have a secret identity, but it is smart to put some thought into what people will see if they search for you. You might choose to create an online identity for yourself, whether it is personal or professional. If it’s professional, keep it consistent with the name you use or any associated phrases, to ensure that when someone finds you that way they can identify you. (Check out the great post from GradHacker if you’re interested in setting up an online identity.)
- Create a “Page” for professional use on Facebook and keep your profile for personal use. People can “like” your Facebook page which will allow them to connect with information you are sharing and leave messages on the wall of that page but this way you can still have your aunt or friends leaving messages on your profile wall or sharing pictures of you that you may not want your students to see. This all still happens under your account so there are no violations of Facebook policy and it is still easy to manage.
- If you are going to Tweet things that may not be professionally appropriate, consider creating a pseudonym. Twitter can be a great way to connect with fun businesses, contests, friends, stars, etc, but be aware that your students or colleagues may search for you. If you include your actual name, be ready for someone to find you. Decide whether you want to have a professional Twitter account and a personal one and consider what you want people to see you sharing or tweeting.
- Think before you comment. If you comment on blogs (and I hope you do), it can be a great way to connect with others. You should, however, choose carefully how you choose to comment. Remember that if you use your real name, this will get linked to your professional life. Is this appropriate for someone at the University to see? Is it something you want your students to potentially know?
- Never reveal information you do not want to share. Always make it a policy to avoid public sharing of contact information unless you have considered who could find it. This includes your telephone number being in your Facebook profile, your personal email being available, chat names, use of Gchat within Gmail, profiles on websites, use of your real name, your work number, etc. Always remember that it is possible to encounter someone on the internet who could work at the University or be a student in your class. So consider what information you post.
The best thing to do to protect your privacy is to have personal guidelines and use those to help you decide what you will share and how. That, and if you don’t want anyone to ever see it, read it, or hear about it, don’t put it on the internet.