About two months ago, the Guardian ran an article by Kathleen Hale, an author who stalked a blogger who gave her a bad review.
By this point, I'm not interested in reading a single thing more about it in terms of how some authors would never do that, that bloggers have a right to write what they want, and so forth. Those thoughts are all too touchy-feely.
What I'm interested in is why bloggers aren't speaking up louder about Internet safety. I think Liz Burns hits the nail on the head about the fact this story has caused many of us who are bloggers to get worried about what speaking up and out might do.
While we might be able to write Hale off as unstable and a rarity, the number of people who supported her piece, regardless of how fabricated it is or is not (she did not offer privacy to the blogger, despite offering it to her friends), is cause for alarm. Go read Liz Burns's post about why she's afraid of blogging after this.
So we can either sit with our fear, give up blogging all together, or we can act in ways that offer us more privacy than we have right now. I thought it would be worthwhile to list a few steps I've taken and a few I plan on taking to ensure the most privacy and safety for myself as a woman on the Internet with an opinion that I can in hopes that it might help other people do the same. We've seen that this is necessary time and time again.Get a Post Office Box
I have given my home mailing address for everything. It never occurred to me to get a PO box for anything blog-related. Today I went down to the local post office and opened one for myself, and I plan on transitioning as much book-related mail as possible there, rather than keep it at home. It will certainly be the address I use when sending out mail, too.
The cost was $29 for 6 months, plus a $6 key deposit fee. To open a box, you need to be 18 (or with a parent/guardian) and you need both a photo ID and a non-photo proof of address. I used my vehicle registration, but you can use your mortgage or your rental agreement.
The pros of this are the anonymity provided. The cons of this are the need to go to the post office, which can be a challenge, and it doesn't change the fact that UPS or FedEx won't ship there.
Image: Martin Cathrae via Flickr
Use a Blogging Email Account
I'm too loose on using my personal email for blogging-related stuff. I'm okay with it sometimes, but I need to be better about public sharing of my email and use the generic email for it. I don't share other people's email addresses when I'm asked for them, so why am I loose with my own? Personal email is that; business email is another beast.
Having a review policy is good for setting out what you're doing and how you do it. No one is shocked that we write critical reviews. No one should be shocked that we don't respond to all email queries. (It's stated we don't, and we don't.) This protects you and what you're trying to do.
Also, sites such as Amazon or B&N can save contest winner mailing addresses as shipping addresses. Delete them. When doing a giveaway from a publisher or other source, I always tell that to the winner, so they know their info is being passed on. This helps them know I'm sharing AND it can be a chance for them to decide which address they're being reached at.
I deleted profiles at all of the social media services I don't use. It's one fewer place for people to "find" me. Know what your rights are on social media before you sign up for new services. When Ello hit the Internet, I didn't run to join. They had no way to block users. Guess what? That's not safe. I'm not going to join a site until I know my ability to be private or block abusive users is guaranteed.Block and Report Abuse
In conjunction with cleaning dead social media, make sure you know how to report abuse and utilize your blocking services where you ARE active. It's not always perfect -- on Twitter, even if you block someone, if they sign out of their account, they can still see your profile, if it's public -- but there is a layer of privacy. Yes, I have a list of people blocked on Twitter. I can handle criticism; when it turns abusive or scary, I'm out.
The beauty of social media is being able to tweak it to fit your needs. Don't let the nasty be what you see, if you can best avoid it. I know it's not always possible, but it shouldn't be a tool you're afraid to use because it might hurt someone else's feelings.Assess your sharing
I have personal boundaries on every social media account I'm on. In other words, I use different tools for different reasons and have different audiences in mind. My Facebook, for example, is only for people I actually know. Strangers or people from the Internet that I've not met in real life or spent significant time talking with are people I don't friend.
I know sometimes it can feel rude to do that, but those same people have all access to me on Twitter or Tumblr or my blog or via email or any other entry point. Facebook is personal and for me and me alone.
I talked at KidLit Con about how my sharing on Twitter has changed in the last year. It has. I am much more conscious of personal sharing. I don't tend to talk about trips I'm taking or about places I'm going or where I'm at.
I don't talk about personal stuff much at all -- perhaps a bad day or a good day, but I'm conscious of not even tweeting my cats' names. It's almost too much information when I'm already using my full, real name.
Another habit I changed? Goodreads. I won't get rid of it, but I use it far less frequently and I post far shorter reviews. I don't bother with starred ratings anymore because I just got tired of defending things like a 3-starred review for a book I liked. (3 means I liked it!) When you get tired of doing something, change what you're doing.
You get to decide how you interact online. Set up boundaries and feel free to stick with them or change them as you want to. If you want to use your real name on one site and not another, go for it. If you want to share details of your employer, feel free. But also know those choices come with consequences.
I know more than one person who had their employment information easily findable and have had people from the Internet contact their bosses about something. I've had situations where someone has been looking for someone with the same name as me, has found my place of employment, and tried running a collection agency through that work place's HR to get my address. HR warned me they weren't looking for me, but told me to be safe and run credit reports anyway. (Yes, this has happened multiple times.)
You don't owe anything to any stranger on the Internet.
You don't have to use a real picture. You don't have to use a real name. You can be inconsistent with your handles. You are the only one who has to have a handle on it, and you can choose those levels of privacy for yourself.Change your passwords
Right now, change all your passwords. Yes, it's a pain in the ass, but it's a step of protection for you. I would highly recommend investing in a password management tool such as 1Password and creating a vault. That makes changing your passwords easier, and you can't forget them since they're saved.
All of the advice out there suggesting that bloggers or those who are outspoken on the Internet need to "grow a thicker skin" is well-meaning, but it's not the be-all, end-all. You can have thin skin (I do!) and still be opinionated. You know how to properly manage it in healthy outlets.
The problem in situations like this isn't about "thick skinned"ness. It's about another person taking advantage of your privacy and security. No one should feel unsafe writing their thoughts, ideas, dreams, or opinions and sharing them.
I write critical reviews, but I don't deserve to feel unsafe for them. No one does.
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