Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It's a Bumpy Road

A couple of months back a student at the high school that my older sons attend got into trouble for information he published on his Xanga website. Now, I got my information very late in the game and third hand, so I don't know all of the details.

What I do know was that he was "stalking" a kid with his website. He published pics that he took with a camera phone, wrote about how much he was in love with this guy, revealed this student's locker number and combination. Stuff that was definitely not cool. Because he was a transfer student (and because the schools are now hot on the trail of any kid's behavior that might result in another Columbine), he was kicked out of our school and sent back to the one in his district. His Xanga was shut down and our school immediately began to look into all of his website links for similarly "risky" behavior. Terms like "Big Brother" were quickly resurrected by kids who had previously done nothing but bitch about being forced to read Orwell's "1984" and statements regarding "personal freedoms" were bandied about.

Of course there was a general adolescent hue and cry over the unfairness of adults monitoring "private" online diaries and reading things that were not intended for the judging eyes of parents, teachers and school administration. The parents, (us included), just laughed. A private diary, we told them, is something between two cardboard covers that you hide under your mattress. It is not something that circles the globe in a matter of seconds so that Middle Eastern camel herders taking a coffee break at Akbar's Internet Cafe can read that your most recent mall expedition with Tiffany and Brittani resulted in some new thong underwear.

There are, however, things in this world that should be private. Phone conversations, for one. Two Amish farmers ought to be able to call each other and talk about explosions from gas buildup in the grain silo without being branded as potential terrorists by overzealous government wiretappers. Aunt Bertha should be able to make you queasy with a gruesome and protracted discussion of her recent hysterectomy without "W" getting an earful at the expense of the Constitution, a copy of which is rumored to be used for rifle range target practice on a well-known ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Having a blog hasn't changed my view about the kids who put their private thoughts out there for EVERY SENTIENT BEING on the planet to see and then get bent out of shape when a clueless parent in the next room stumbles across their admission of shoplifting and the hammer comes down. No pity there. And it hasn't changed the fact that I believe that if a guy wants to go on Maury Povitch and propose to his girlfriend, he can't control who watches. If he decides to do it via long-distance telephone, he should be able to do that without hearing Dick Cheney's heavy breathing on the other end.

But there's something else. I've been reading blogs since late in the summer, and though I'd been threatening to set one up for most of that time, I didn't have the guts to do so until the week of Thanksgiving. It wasn't about seeing my name in print. I've been seeing my name in newspapers and one or two magazines since 1991. Besides...I don't use my real name here anyway. It's about fashioning a space for myself that doesn't require an editor's permission and whose mode of expression isn't limited by the term "family newspaper" .

Like many bloggers (I don't presume to speak for most or all of you), the vast majority of my audience consisted (initially) of people who have no earthly idea who I am. And I was very happy with that. There's a purity in that which is deeply satisfying. People should be drawn by what you say and how you say it...not who they think you might be. That's the whole point of blogging, I think. At least it is for me. It's not really a device for letting Luther and Edna back home know how well your prize pig did at the 4H competition, though I guess one could certainly utilize a blog for such an enterprise.

What I've learned about other people--as well as myself--is this: Bloggers are just people who want the same two things that everyone else wants. 1) We want to be fully known for who we are even when we're impossible to love and 2) We don't want to be judged. That's why I limited the number of friends and family who should know about this site. It's also why I've saved my strongest and most biting commentary for when I'm replying to the posts of other bloggers. That's not to say that I won't get up in someone's face eventually, but--up until now--I was still grooving pretty heavily on posting about pop culture and whether or not macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.

True story: I did invite a drive-by commenter on another site to come by my site for a discussion on the merits (or not) of homeschooling after she openly attacked another blogger regarding a post. I called her on it and the discussion quickly went south. She was openly hostile with me (and others with college degrees) who might question someone who attempted to teach without one and even though the woman displayed an eighth grader's facility with the English language and couldn't spell the word "crap" if it was rubbed on her, she insisted that she and those of her ilk were better prepared to teach her litter of seven children than someone like me. But I digress.

Color me naive, but I thought I could compartmentalize my blog life away from my real life. I've read with real sympathy how families quit speaking with one another after they felt they were mis-respresented on a loved one's blog. But what are your choices? You can edit yourself to make everyone happy or you can tell absolutely no one that you have this really great thing in your life. Or you can do what I did. You can tell some and not others. Let me tell you...that idea blows big chunks,too, as I've recently learned. But it's all out there now and I don't have the right to feel invaded as the audience that reads grows to include those who "knew me when".

Besides...I still have a few secrets that I won't put out there for everyone to read. I'm smarter than that. And as long as I don't tell them to someone during the course of a phone call, I'm probably okay. Oh...and my parents still can't know.


Blogger Arabella said...

I struggle with the who-should-know-about-the-blog-and-how-much-should-I-say issue, too. I went back and forth quite a bit before telling certain people; I have been fortunate that in most cases sharing the blog has been far more positive than negative, and sometimes overwhelmingly so. Like you, some of my more potent stuff is in the comments section of other peoples' blogs, and that's just fine with me.

I really can't blame the school for taking disciplinary action in the extreme case you mentioned, although I really dislike the idea of a school's blanket prohibitions on students' personal webpages. What's the harm in telling the world that you're bummed out because your parents' refuse to let you pierce your navel?

4:15 PM  
Anonymous jess said...

I'm not sure i agree that young adults and kids for that matter shouldn't be entitled to having a personal blog kept personal.

I do think your words regarding your blog / my blog are very accurate and truthful. It's hard when you cross that line and people you know IRL begin reading. In the end, in my experience, it's all been positive.

4:58 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Jess- I think you misunderstand my point. It's not that I don't think kids should be able to have a personal journal or that they don't have the right to privacy. What I'm saying is that, if privacy is your main concern, the internet is probably the wrong place to try and maintain that. By inviting even one person to read your online diary, one can no longer demand "privacy". It ceases to be private after that. You put it out there and then anyone with a computer and find it and read it. And you can't expect half a million readers to see your weblog as a private thing and to treat it as such once it's out there on the web.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Plain Jane said...

I had another blog once. I didn't hide much, except my name. Someone at my work place found it and it was obvious who wrote it [me]. All hell broke lose.

I closed that blog - because it was the wise thing to do, not because I was instructed to. I just didn't want my professional peers reading the day to day things of my personal/home life.

I waited months. I opened another one, and now I don't use my name and I don't talk about work, nor do I share it with any of my family except my spouse.

I've found that you are never truly anonymous but it's nice not to be known.

Odd how that works. The judgement thing. I don't mind strangers or iNet friends knowing me inside and out... but I wouldn't dream of sharing those things with "real" friends/family.

9:10 PM  
Blogger CISSY said...

Well said. As I recently learned even when I don't think people who know me are reading, they are. I too, like the annonymity (somewhat) of being able to say what's on my mind without hesitation -- an option not available to us as journalists. I even thought this week of dumping North of the Red River and starting again. But I've decided against it. I started blogging last February during a very stressful time at work. Though, I didn't go into the things that were going on in my life, like journaling, I found this very calming and therapeutic -- cheaper than a therapist anyway. So I'll keep writing and constantly struggle with the "who should know" issue. My mother does not.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

Excellent post! It's funny that a lot of people have YET to realize that the internet is a PUBLIC place. I'll pop on random blogs sometimes and leave a comment here and there only to get a reply back, "HOW did you find me?! No one knows about this place." Really? NO ONE huh?

As far as blogger privacy. No one I know personally has been given a nudge toward my blog by me. I like it that way... But should someone I know accidently bump into it, I won't be upset. I expect it eventually. For now, I make sure what I say is nothing that I believe can't be said or that might bite me in the ass some day.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Most of my readers know who I am. Some of my issues are shared by some of my coworkers, family and friends. I discussed a personal issue because it made a major change in my life, and I also wanted those are still stuck through drugs, depression, cults, etc. that there is hope.

I understand that you weren't commenting about me, but you raise these interesting issues.

The blog is also my testament for who I am. It is art and passion combined (though I am silly at times!). It is evidence of being able to reach out and grasp the infinite through personal action and ambition.

I especially feel that when I jog. It's akin to a religious experience.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

In regard to the government listening in, I am immediately disturbed by illegal government spying.

I distrust the administration esepcially since bush was not effective in stopping al-qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan, and the subsequent and ongoing adventure in Afghanistan.

However, further terrorist action is a real threat to us, and unfortunately now for our allies too.

So unfortunately, there is a need for it. Terrorist acts began long before bush. Ouside the U.S., I think terrorism against us outside our shores began in the 1970's. I do not know if bush was in power the first time the WTC was attacked, or the time the Muslims in Brooklyn planned to dispense poison gas in the subway, so terrorism is an ongoing concern because of 30 years plus of Muslim activity against us, and of course we have plenty of our own nutty or terrorist types.

We really need a point of reference to compare government surveillence of the public now, with other times of risk. I would think WWII would be a major time for surveillance, and maybe the time of Stalin's aggression during the Cold War.

7:57 AM  
Blogger The Gradual Gardener said...

There's someone who reads my blog who's a much scarier censor than my coworkers, my parents, or even Mr. daughter. So, for the time being anyway, you won't find many swears on my blog. Not that she doesn't know the words, she just doesn't necessary know I use them. Ok, ok, she knows I use them, just not how often...

8:12 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Oh boy is this a pandora's box.

You have one situation where the school administration is reviewing one blog from a student with possible serious emotional issues, and they are checking the links to see if there are more problem students, and the student body as a whole are upset that their rights to privacy are being violated.

This is unrealistic. There is nothing wrong with what the school administration has done. They are not enforcing their rules upon the whole school population.

I am against the student being shipped back to the previous school. The problem should have been handled immediately with the current school. He needs counseling and parent involvement now. He does not need to get compulsive towards someone else at the previous school.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Spamboy said...

The genesis for my blog was realizing I had something worth recording in a location outside of my own memory — If not for myself, at least for the friends and family that pepper my stories.

I've been a participant in some wonderfully interesting stories and it would be a shame if some of the more-poignant and/or humorous ones were to fade away. So I write for myself primarily, but since they are stories they aren't meant to be private — hence, the blog and its public presentation. I can't hide behind the blog, since it and I share the same moniker and everyone knows me by that nickname.

If I want to keep a secret, I tell noone. And the internet might as well be a person — tell "them" and "they" will spread it like prison gossip.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Rock said...

Actually I am an alien from outerspace watching all of you sitting in front of a tv with a typewriter for hours on end - but I can't understand anything you are saying.

But there is one thing I know - the Longhorns suck.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

Julie at MotherGooseMouse just posted on this topic recently. Like you, she brought up some good points about anonymity and blogging vs letting people know your url.

For me, there are plenty of people who know me that still don't know I have a blog, but this year when I sent out Christmas cards, I took a deep breath and included my url in some of them. I don't know why it's easier to be braver and more honest with strangers than with people I know. Strangers can just as easily and probably even more so be petty and judgemental.
I still don't have it all figured out yet, so until I do, I like the fact that for the most part I can control who knows about my site. Maybe I'm being naive about that based on what some of your other commenters have said, but I really don't think there is anyone I know reading my blog that I haven't already told about it, but they could be I suppose.
As for privacy in online journals for school age kids, it's the same thing I guess, in this medium there's really no such thing.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Misfit Hausfrau said...

Many of my friends know about my blog, dut I sometomes wish I hadn't. I'll probably start a new blog to let out anger that would probably scare them. Mother & sister do not know about the blog.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

I just wanted a place to say pretty much what came to mind and to make people chuckle. I do regret that I told some people about my blog, but it has kept me from just venting about people I know.

I realize that this blog is open to all in cyberspace and with a small amount of techie skills, I could be found. I try to balance this knowledge with honesty as I write, but sometimes it's tough.

I don't like the wiretapping crap at all...the theory is if I have nothing to hide, why should I care, but you just never know how someone is going to interpret anything, do you?

1:15 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I know of people who have had family members find their blogs and it's not been good. Really, the only person that I wouldn't want reading my blog is my MIL. My father knows I blog but has no interest in reading it. My husband reads my blog, which is fine by me -- I actually like that he reads it. I try to keep what I put on my blog on the lighter side, pertaining to my life as a mother more than anything else. It's all I wanted to do when I started keeping a blog -- noting the daily trials and tribulations of being a mommy of two.

3:15 PM  
Blogger mrtl said...

Excellent post, wordgirl!

I think a lot of people get into blogging without fully understanding the lack of privacy. Others tell all friends and family about their blogs, then regret it (and start new blogs under pseudonyms).

I take it holly never took you up on your offer to discuss homeschooling more. Oh well.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

You've combined too many different topics into one post. It's impossible to address them all, so I'm going to talk about the only one that truly interests me. Kids and blog/journal privacy.

"We" come from a generation that believed a diary was written on paper and hidden in a bedroom and we expected our parents to respect our privacy. How many times did you hear friends rant about their parents reading their diary? A lot. It may even have happened to you.

Times have changed and with those times, we have to change. Our children consider their journals private - they aren't idiots, they know people can find them and read them. They even invite people to read them. But our children do not consider their parents to be "people". Our children expect us to respect their privacy and treat their blogs and journals as we would their paper diaries.

Maybe you aren't the type of parent who would respect your child's privacy and would lift the mattress and rifle through the pages. I'm not.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Shrinking Violet said...

I never cared if anyone learned about my blog except my employer. I haven't said anything out of hand....Yet. But I probably will and I don't want to get fired. Other than that,it is skin to the wind.

Invading my Kid's problem. There will BE NO COLUMBINE in my house.

Now, about the government listening in on calls...I'm intellectually opposed to the government listening to my calls without two branches of government knowing (The Cops want to record me, they have to get permission from a court for a wire tap). BUT, and this is a BIG BUT, I'm not overly concerned about my calls being tapped. If this is the same government that has FEMA, the same government that bungles the war, the same government that controls Social Security...I AM NOT AFRAID. The only government agency that scares me is the IRS. Period. Everybody else...bring it on..

9:16 AM  
Blogger Shrinking Violet said...

Denise - yes we are from a generation that thinks of a diary as something tangible. And, as a teenager, I usually thought my parents should stay out of my business. But I NEVER EXPECTED it. My mother read my diary. I yelled and cried by I KNEW I didn't have a leg to stand on...

I told my Kid from the day he got on my computer...this is NOT private. I WILL violate your "privacy" if you give me a smidge of a reason to...He got mad when I read his profile. I said "GET is on the Internet"...he can have all the expectations he wants, but that doesn't mean I'm going to cave to them....expectations are nothing but future resentments anyway.

9:26 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Denise- If I thought my kid was into some harmful stuff, I would probably read his diary. Everyone's entitled to a private thought without the intrusion of others. Although I disagree with you about the "too many topics" I combined in the post(they all had to do with the notion of privacy), I'll stress the central point for you again. Whether or not a parent chooses to micr-manage every aspect of his/her child's life or whether they blindly allow them to make life choices without ever questioning what they're doing or their motives for doing it isn't really my point with regard to the Xanga situation. What I said was this:


11:54 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...


11:55 AM  
Anonymous Monique said...

I agree with so much of what you have said here!

When I first started blogging, I didn't tell anyone I knew. But when I started to see what sort of shape it was going to take, I did begin to invite some close friends and family to read. That's grown over the months as I became more comfortable with what my blog was and was not going to be. I have not invited anyone from work, nor have they accidentally stumbled onto it... that's one area that I continue to want to keep separate, if I can.

6:48 PM  

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