Saturday, May 21, 2011

Privacy

When I moved to the Dar last September, I was determined to continue blogging even though certain people strongly strongly urged me to stop. They wanted me to stop because anything I wrote could - and probably would - be tracked. They had heard of people being given the boot for much less than a slightly negative blog post.

I countered by saying that I blog under a nickname, don't talk about my employer, and don't describe location-specific details. On the rare occasion that I do write something personally identifiable, it's usually innocuous and probably even happy. That is to say, when I lived in Syria, I blogged shamelessly and openly, just making sure that I remembered to mention my pleasure with that beautiful country, its beautiful people, and the degree to which I felt safe and protected there. If my blog were tracked, I would gain friends in high places, not enemies! Such would be my strategy in Sue Dan.

Then a colleague pointed out that in my list of blogs-I-follow in the bottom corner, there was a link to my employer's blog. Another colleague told me a tale about someone whose blog was as nondescript as mine, and who had said only the slightest negative critique one day. That person was quickly handed an exit visa.

So I deleted my employer's blog's link and took the added precaution of renaming the country, region and city where I stayed. I think you know where the Dar is, right? I think it's kind of obvious but hopefully it would at least siderail a search engine. And I kept writing nice things about my "hosts", even when I was less than happy with them.

Why do I share this story here? Because David left a comment in my blog the other day asking me about how guarded I am in what I share on this blog. He asked me if it makes me uncomfortable to see others baring all. I don't know if he was thinking of one type of 'guardedness' in particular, but I think I'm 'guarded' in two different ways: (1) honesty of the heart, and (2) details of my world.

Well, David, here's my answer if you're referring to (1) the guarded heart: I envy those of you who are able to share your whole hearts honestly. It shows that you are in tune with your hearts and confident enough to share openly. No, it doesn't make me uncomfortable, but it does make me a bit sad because it shows me just how much my lifestyle has taught me to guard my heart. After several years of moving every 3-4 months to a new country and making a completely new set of friends, I have grown weary of the emotional energy it takes to seriously invest in new people. In face-to-face relationships, I certainly don't bare as much as I used to. I have tried to maintain my blog as a haven of continuity where I can always be myself, but that's hard to do. I'm afraid my slightly-protective emotional walls now extend to the bloggy part of my life.

Now, David, if you're asking about (2) hiding the details of my world, I think the answer is much more interesting: I am guarded for security reasons. Many, if not most, of the people I blog about are considered to be living in "sensitive" circumstances. In some cases, if I write enough about them to make them immediately recognisable, I could be putting their lives at risk. Sometimes women's husbands would be upset that their wives were described so thoroughly in a public forum, sometimes refugees could be connected to something they were fleeing. I believe it is highly unethical to portray a person, even in writing, who is in a sensitive situation. But I also believe it is important for (a) the world to know what the rest of the world is like, and (b) me to process my experiences. So I settle on talking about them in vague terms, with details removed. I prefer to delete than to alter their features, and I have decided that anonymising them makes it ok. (Also, as mentioned above, my own safety could be at risk.)

But lest I sound like some kind of saintly angel bringing light to the world, I am even MORE hesitant to blog about people I know and who might read my blog! Part of this is personal fear of rejection - what if they don't like what I wrote about them? But even more, I feel like their lives are their property. If I'm going to talk about them, unless we've discussed the blog in advance, I don't want them to FEEL like I'm talking about them in any way. So I try to tell the truth without telling about them.

But then I see some of you who put your names, family photos, city of residence, and other details on your blog. Does that make me uncomfortable? For me, no - in fact, I enjoy seeing your world! But for you, well, a little bit yes, I am concerned. I know you don't live in war zones or under repressive regimes, but there are crazy people out there. Are you looking for celebrity status just so people can stalk you? I doubt that's what you are thinking, but don't you worry that that could be an unintended outcome? I don't know if it's because I've been 'forced' to be careful for so many reasons, or if it's because the issues are real, but I would be highly reticent to open my world for all to see in any public forum at all.

But that's just me, and the circumstances that have shaped my decision-making are, to say the least, somewhat unorthodox.

Will you share with me your thinking on the topic? How open are you and why? Do you think I go too far in talking about people here, or do you wish I said more?

4 comments:

Strummed Words said...

Blog on, my friend.

Lisa notes... said...

Well, you raise good issues. I like to think I'm somewhat "medium" on the privacy scale.

As far as the heart, I'm probably a little more open there. And for those who know me in real life, they probably can read a lot more into my words than even what I publish.

I've always found it even more intriguing that you have to be guarded because of your location and situation. You seem to have found a good balance, in my opinion. If you weren't open at all, I probably wouldn't have continued to read you all the time. :-) Yet I sense your guardedness, understandably, in protecting the people you're around (and yourself).

happygirl said...

Thanks for this. I'm slightly anonymous on my blog. People that know me "in real life" can tell it's me. Although, haha, it took some people longer than others (even though I left some serious clues). I try to be open with my feelings and thoughts, only because I'm trying to stop kidding myself about myself. I pray for your safety and security in your job and location. I love your blog.

David N. said...

Just now gettign to read this, Kati. Thanks for the response! This helps me understand you and your life a lot better. I totally get the security concerns and assumed that was part of your "guardedness" when it came to details, but I was more curious about whether you were just wired in such a way to being very careful about sharing your heart. You provided a good explanation.

One of the reasons I was asking was because several months ago on my blog you had commented something to the effect of "I can't believey you're comfortable opening up like this to strangers". It made me think a lot, because I guess I don't know another way to write, and also because there is a way of "opening up" as a writer that stills leaves one's heart guarded even though it may appear to be laid bare. You know what I mean?

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