Privacy, Integrity and the Internet
A lot of different things have me considering this topic about now. On a personal level, I was in my own email and I was reminded of how private things are NOT, online. You know how you get those annoying ads popping up alongside your email on the regular sites? I happened to look at the ads, which usually I just ignore. And then I looked again.
The top five ads were for “Publish your own book” (well, I was emailing publishers,) “Firefighting Careers” (my Samhain book has an ex-firefighter in it, and I’d commented to the editor about him,) “Building and remodeling your home” (the title is The Rebuilding Year although it has nothing to do with construction,) “Helping Hands charities” (I have a short story going to Featherweight for their Helping Hands line,) and “Meet hot guys” (um, wonder where that came from…) The scary part here is that with the exception of the publishers, all these things were in the bodies of my emails, not even the subject lines. Sure, it’s just some roboscavenger, picking up key words for targeted advertising. But it made me understand why my husband encrypts the grocery list when he sends it to me.
On a more general level, there has been more than enough said and written recently about author privacy. About the degree to which authors are entitled to keep their pen personae separate from their personal lives. The question of when misdirection becomes deception. And whether readers are owed anything more than a good book. There was the recent case of an author who received bad reviews on Amazon which also revealed his real name, linked to his pen name. That one’s headed to court. The unpleasant furor over the use of different-sex pen names has brought pain, and outing of sexual orientation, to more than one author.
The Internet is an odd place. It is at once intimate and anonymous. As never before, people meet, converse, share bonds and friendships, based only on what they choose to reveal about themselves. It can be wonderful. I am finding a community among other writers and the readers of my books that I have never known before. It can be horrible, as people caught in frauds and deceptions will attest. And finding the balance between trust and caution is damned hard.
Integrity is an old-fashioned word. It makes me think of my father, who never once lied to me in 46 years of my life, who swore only once in my presence (when I sank the sailboat,) and who would walk a mile to return excess change given him by an inept store clerk. If everyone out there was my father, we would all have just the joy of this new community.
But people are people. There are two new phishing attempts in my email spam bucket. There are strident voices all over clamoring for witch hunts of various kinds, basing judgments and accusations on the flimsiest of evidence. And the risks exist. Someone drew a cartoon of a collie typing on a keyboard, with the caption “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” Truth.
I write under a pen name. And the people with whom I converse online believe my stories of family and Minnesota mosquitoes and a little white dog based on nothing more than the hope that I am telling them the truth. And some of them send me their real emails and addresses, and trust that I will be careful with them. I’m honored and a little frightened by that evidence of trust.
I don’t have answers. I don’t even have good advice. I myself tend to trust as long as I can, (far longer than my computer-security husband would like.) But I’m in no position to judge others on their choices.
What I do have is a request, a plea if you will, for kindness and for integrity. For each of you to judge each other with as much mercy as you would wish to receive. For you to be as kind and supportive of those around you as it is in your nature to be. For you to allow those who want privacy to have it. And to deal with each other as honestly as you can. Even the little lies come back and bite us. “I’d rather not say” is an acceptable answer to an intrusive question. This ephemeral two-dimensional community brings people together as never before; let’s all try to make that a good thing.