Amsterdam – Pimp City: musings on social networking

108883519To support NaNoWriMo this month, I’m finishing the 30+ odd drafts laying about and posting them through the month of November.

Back in June of 2010, Brian IM’d me and said that while reviewing his LinkedIn network updates, he noticed that an entry from me containing the word “Amsterdam – Pimp City” was on the list. He’s referring to an image I recently uploaded to Twitpic and was thusly shouted out to Twitter and anywhere else that I have Twitter bleeding into, including LinkedIN which in turn showed up on Brian’s LinkedIn weekly update email. Follow that? Good.

This image, which is completely safe for work, is nothing more than words on cheap tin ashtray we bought for my brother in Amsterdam since it is a the kind of cheap and tacky gift you get for a loved one. At last you do in my family.

In my world view, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about — it’s an ashtray with cheap print overlay but Brian, in his opinion, was concerned about the word “pimp” and how that word could possible be related back to him via social network streams and what not, thanks to me. In one innocent posting, I could have possibly marred ever so slightly Brian’s professional reputation.

In short, while I was clearly okay with the posting, Brian certainly was not. And what was even better is that I could do nothing to rectify the situation since there were several days of lag between the posting and Brian’s complaint. Which when I pointed that out to Brian, he didn’t really expect me to DO anything. (Because he wouldn’t want me to change who I am but if it turned out if that word did cause a ripple on his network, he would have to defriend me on the LinkedIn service since it would reflect badly on him. Huh.)

I did, admittedly, get a bit defensive about our conversation but it wasn’t about Brian’s issue with my use of the word “pimp,” rather it’s about after how many years of “social networking,” we (as in the general public we) still do not have an agreed upon consensus on what this all means! Secondly, that the extent of our ramifications of our actions, because we (again the royal “we”) suppose on many different instances where things are definitely stupid (befriending one’s boss on Facebook then apparently talking shit about said boss in one’s status updates, thus causing one to get fired.), we agree they are definitely stupid. It’s the gray area that is troubling.

As most of you know, I don’t have a problem expressing who I am online or off. And in some cases, I’ll tone it down when toning down is warranted. But Brian’s observation about his LinkedIn list did give me some food for thought – how much of social networking responsibility am I willing to carry? In the example Brian laid out, a Twitter update with an image with the words “Amsterdam – Pimp City,” while benign for all intents and purposes, could be seen as not that benign or remotely innocent. While I take responsibility for content that I push onto my social networks and those connected sites (In this case, Twitter ->LinkedIn), and am I still responsible for the content if it’s being aggregated through other people’s LinkedIn profiles that is done without my knowledge?

As someone with a long history of online overshare, it was (and still is) difficult for me to comprehend when people publish information online, regardless of format and they almost always naively believe they can attempt to secure or privatize that information. There is a long standing hacker idiom that goes along the lines of if you want to TRULY secure or privatize your data, wrap the sever in chains and throw it into the ocean. Tada! Instant privatization and security.

Back in ye olde tymey days when LiveJournal was my social network crack of choice, I vacillated between privatizing my account or at least some of my entries so that only approved “friends” could read it and keeping it wide open for the public at large. On the whole, my account was 99% public with only a few private entries available to “friends” with the friends demarcation being those who had accounts on LiveJournal and were reciprocal. The vacillation between public and private posting, for me, has been an ongoing struggle for over a decade. When I posted at modgirl.net from the mid 90s to early ’00s, it was all public. When I started cross-posting between modgirl.net and LiveJournal, it was 99% public. Towards the end of the ’00s, I privatized all the back entries on LiveJournal to the beginning and only kept what was cross-posted from 2008-2010 between my regular blog and LiveJournal as public. And after all that forethougth and decision making, in early 2011 I opened up all of my LiveJournal again to be read by the general public, which included all the cross-postings from around my blog-o-sphere.

On one hand, I firmly believe that all information should be free and available to the public regardless of content. On the other, I’m well aware that there is information sensitive enough that should only be shared between a small group of friends and that publicizing could lead to additional problems/issues down the road. When TheEx and I split in March of 2008, I used LiveJournal to disseminate the information to my friends group at large. When I started detailing TheExe’s mental and physical abuse towards me over the prior two years, that’s when I used LiveJournal to go public with his abuse.

In the case of what I was writing, and how I was writing it and when, I was in control of content access. In the last couple of years, this is not so true anymore. Integration across the networks, marketed to save us time and energy is really a huge privacy issue since I can no longer control absolutely how my data is disseminated, and what is hilarious is that we (the general royal we) really don’t care as long as our pictures are on Facebook and we can check into Foursquare. If I choose, however, to stop pushing content over to LinkedIn from my blog and Twitter accounts, I can more or less guarantee that the content will not be redistributed on their networks. But if I don’t, I run the risk, in the case of Brian’s musing, of my work being used in ways I never thought it would be.

If I am taking responsibility for what I’m posting on my approved social networks, is it my responsibility if those networks choose to aggregate that content in other ways (In this case, LinkedIN pushing updates from “friends” into an email that the user subscribes to that I have no control or access to)? Where do I draw the line, imagined or real, on what I’m posting anymore? This is not 1998 and the only way to get access to my content is via RSS or visiting my site, you can find me anywhere.

And the biggest question of them all: How much should I care?