Who are you online?


Several months ago a small group of people in Wellington took a special interest in me. They started to stalk my twitter posts and goggled my searches to find out what they could about my life and me. They trawled through blog posts and tweets and collated it all together. Admittedly they found out a great deal.

I’ve never really tried to hide large aspects of my life from the public eye. Partly because my work is tied to who I am – both the successful professional side, and the flawed, “real” side. I’ve consciously tried to be as honest as I can about myself because I’ve wanted people to feel they can trust me. For instance, a flawed person talking about relationships and behaviour is more accessible to some than someone pretending everything is perfect when it isn’t.

Even when I’ve made mistakes (and oh boy I have MADE MISTAKES) I’ve tried to come clean about them, and made them public. For me it’s always been about owning my own press, allowing myself to tell the story. If you don’t get to tell your tale, someone else will.

Of course what can be found online is still a fragment of the real me. If someone feels they can read my online comments and stories and expect to know me, they will get it wrong. The longer I use public platforms, the longer I tuck away huge parts of my life from the public eye- relationships, business information, friendships, and where I am during the weekend. I actually carefully think before I tweet. Facebook or blog.  Sometimes I let my guard down and send out something I probably shouldn’t, but for the most part, even my rants or vents are ones I’m really prepared to stand behind

As a parent I’ve posted photos and drawings of my children, but now only with their permission. I learnt that lesson after my youngest daughter’s comments about unicorns were tweeted out, then published in a Sunday paper. She was less than impressed with me.

What is said in an online space is not always the truth. It sounds so rudimentary to say it, but so many people still seem shocked by it. There is what is really going on, and what is what you want people to know is going on. The internet provides you an opportunity to weave your own storyline, fairytaling it up and away from whatever you’re currently facing.

Our internet footprint is part of how someone sees us. Many people google a new contact as a matter of course, especially if it’s a person of interest personally. We love to piece together a puzzle about who that person is, and get all the grit on them.

If you want to be online but don’t want to have others find out too much about you, what are your options?

  1. Work out the boundaries of what you will discuss and not discuss and stick to them.  There are problems with this however. Say you are unemployed but want to give the impression you are a successful professional. You meet someone offline at WINZ, who then posts they’ve met you there. If you’re going to hide information, then you’re going to have to be careful about making connections with anyone in real life. This can lead to you feeling isolated and out of the loop. If you are in a relationship and no one knows, but then online buddies see you with the person, you can’t control them tweeting or facebooking about it.
  2. Use a fake name This used to be popular in the ‘90’s when people were paranoid about identity theft and protecting their identity. Now it’s probably safer to use your real name and put it everywhere-, as people will quickly identify who is you and who isn’t. If you plan to use your profile to network with others, or build relationships that lead to meeting offline, then fake names are not advisable. Building relationships with people you know in real life under a fake profile without letting them know it’s you is wrong by the way- take it from someone who’s done it and regretted it.
  3. Make everything super private and locked down. Twitter and facebook have many security settings to help that happen. You can have a private account on twitter and super private settings on facebook.  Some people like to have two twitters accounts- one for their professional side, and another for their dark or bad side. While this is an option, I’ve noticed most people intermix the two regardless especially when they work out you are both the same people. If you are private but are a business or persona, or have a cause you want to put your weight behind, it won’t work. You will need to find another way around it.

Whatever you decide to do, be consistent. I find people with locked profiles who have a link to their blog which spills everything about them. Or they have a locked twitter account, but they say similar information on thier facebook page- which is searchable on google. Make the security levels similar for everything you use on the internet. (This is why I prefer to keep everything open, but choose to just avoid discussing particular issues in a public forum. )
Do you know where your online boundaries are? Do you think the online persona you reflect is a correct image of who you are? Or more of who you want to be? Do you feel a dichotomy between who you are to people online, and who you are if you meet them face to face?

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...

One Comment

  1. Nicole Williams Reply

    Great commonsense advice thanks Rachel. I battled with how much to reveal when I started blogging but I learned pretty quickly that anonymity was hard to achieve, and largely counterproductive. I’ve connected with so many valuable people through the process – I want them to know who I am! I am very careful still – I treat my blog as an extension of my CV.

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