Privacy and Identity on the Internet

It’s weird how much my feelings about the internet and privacy have changed. When I first got online, I had screennames everywhere and would *never* tell someone even just my extremely common first name. But I got into blogs right away and was pretty open about my life despite not giving specific details.

Even back in 2010 I was really secretive. I met this guy through another friend I only knew online. He kept asking for my name even when I explained I was uncomfortable with it, nothing personal, I just didn’t know him. Every single day. We’d be chatting and everything was fine but then “What’s your name? Why won’t you tell me? You know I’m a nice guy.” And when I said no, he’d joke that he could find it anyway, that one day he’d just show up at my apartment. Hilarious! I considered him a friend, but I was really uncomfortable letting him know anything about my offline identity.

So occasionally it seems really weird to me that I blog under my real name now. I don’t remember when exactly I made that shift…though it probably had something to do with Facebook taking off the way it did. Before that I had two separate communities – the online friends that got to hear all my thoughts and actually get to know me, and the offline people that knew all the external stuff. I would never have shared screennames or urls with that second group, and never give legal names or locations to the first. But at some point that changed and I had blogger-friends on Facebook and one or two classmates asked to read my blog, and everything was a mess!

With all these categories blurring together, keeping up a pseudonym eventually just seemed like a lot of unnecessary extra work. I was always worried about people on one side learning too much about the other now that there was all this mingling. Also, identity is a tricky thing. The people who regularly read and commented on my blog, especially people who had their own blogs I could read and comment on, those became the friends who knew me best and who I trusted the most.

The first time a blogger friend of mine asked for my Facebook page, I was surprised to find I didn’t mind giving it to her. On the other hand, when offline-friends found out I had a blog and wanted to read it, I would get nervous and have to think a lot about whether I trusted them enough to let them actually get to know me. A name’s just a label, my identity was rooted in my blogs.

And now I’m a seminary graduate who blogs about ministry and hopes to one day work in it. Shouldn’t my work in that area be something I want to share with possible employers? It seemed that was what others in my situation were feeling as well. I saw more and more blogs connected to professional profiles, more and more friends blogging under their real names. I realized I liked the things I was writing, and I wanted to write more about my ministry ideas in ways that would help me learn more and share my thoughts. My best self was in my blogs and I wanted my future employers to see that.

Respect has become more important to me than privacy. Like I learned from that “friend” I mentioned at the beginning, a pseudonym won’t always stop people who don’t respect your right to privacy in the first place. But I’ve learned I don’t actually have to talk to people who treat me like that. And if an employer doesn’t like the way I think, we’re probably not going to be a good match.

(It’s important to note here that I’m talking specifically about future employers in a ministry career, since that’s mostly what I write about here. I understand some people have very good reasons not to merge identities or blog openly. Things would probably be different if I blogged mainly about personal things with no professional overlap. But if I can’t let an employer see the sort of work I want to do for them, I’m going to have a problem. And I don’t interview well as it is, so I have to do whatever I can to bring my best skills to my career and self-presentation.)

So I think claiming my space, my own website with my own name, has been an important part in taking ownership of my life and being open about who I am. The more I merge my name with the online world where I’ve always felt comfortable expressing myself, the more I’m able to step out of the shadows in “the real world” and the more likely I am to succeed. Writing has always given me confidence, and it’s nice to finally see that confidence showing itself in my daily life.

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