Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Social Networking: Publicity Op or Security Risk?

“Daughters then,” said the greeting card, with a picture of a distraught girl exclaiming:
“Mom! I can’t believe they read my diary!"
A second picture, captioned, “Daughters now,” had an equally distraught girl:
“I can’t believe only 200,000 people have read my blog!”

Yes, some of us do crave attention, it’s true. While others are uncomfortable being noticed. To some extent it’s always been that way. Yet new technologies seem to add wrinkles.

Missionaries and Social Networking

This is a big issue in the mission community. Many Christian workers are eagerly tapping into Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and the like for ministry purposes and in hopes of strengthening their communication and ties with colleagues and supporters. They happily share ministry-related news, prayer requests, and opportunities.

Others either shun or are very selective about their involvement in such environments. Many of them are Christian workers in sensitive areas; the risk is that someone will identify them in ways they do not wish to be seen. Even being linked to people who publicly use religious or spiritual language or post their Christian affiliations and job titles can seem threatening.

Several friends on Facebook have suggested I “friend” Joan in SE Asia, Diana in K’stan, and others whom I suspect would be as uncomfortable having my updates appear on their accounts as some of my other expatriate friends have been. If only they could be sure I only wrote about what I was making for dinner and posted cute pictures of my kids (oops, no kids!) it might be different. But that’s not what I tend to write about... So if they ask me directly, I’ll say yes, but I won’t follow the friend “suggestion” from someone else.

Maybe they wouldn’t care or have found ways to compensate for or minimize the risks.

Maybe if I wrote something they weren’t OK with they’d just “hide” my updates or “unfriend” me.

I just don’t know.

It’s touchy.

For me, the benefits of being open about my involvement in Christian missions, personally and professionally, outweigh the risks.

I’m a mobilizer: I’m not supposed to be keeping this stuff secret. My job is to spread the news.

But I also know I could come to regret today’s decisions, tomorrow.

Hiding in Plain Site

Blogging played a minor but interesting role in a novel I read recently. Anna - our heroine and sleuth - has a job tracing down missing people. When her own brother disappears, she puts her skills to work trying to find him, forgetting until almost too late a trick she herself had taught him: that you can preserve your safety and still communicate with loved ones by hiding your message in plain site on an anonymous blog.

I suppose the same would be true for running a crime ring, or something like that, wouldn’t? Maybe it will show up in the next Dan Brown novel!

Similarly: In a recent article about journaling, Grammar Girl mentioned that some people choose to keep a journal about their inmost feelings on an anonymous, unpublicized blog - for security’s sake. That's right. You can add to it anywhere, need not carry a book around, and don’t have to worry about your diary being lost or stolen.

What do you think?


Justin Long said...

That's a clever idea of hiding in plain site on an unpublicized blog. As long as you don't include people's full proper names its likely it would never be found. Cory Doctorow, a sci-fi writer, comments that the biggest problem for an author these days is getting attention, not getting published. I find my biggest problem is being confused with the actor--that's the lion's share of google searches that come toward my personal website, anyway. However, that doesn't necessarily apply in a restricted access country where there are few ISP servers and they are at specific "choke points" and can be monitored...The more servers there are, the harder it is to be found. But the fewer servers, it becomes exponentially easier. This is a cultural and situational difference that many people who are not on the field often don't "get." Even different fields can often not understand this difference! Excellent post, Marti!

Marti said...

Thanks for coming by, Justin! I'm sure you've thought about these things at least as much as I have.

I'm not sure I understand the tech side of it all; No, wait, I'm pretty sure I don't!

If you are posting or hosted from a more restricted country everything goes through just a few channels and you're less likely to slip through? So, say, stuff that ELAM might do from the UK - though it's a relatively small country - is going to be lower risk, but for people in Iran trying to connect with those sites it gets dicey? They mentioned the situation in a recent article on the Iran 30 site "Internet, a delicate information battle zone."

With personal names, yes, seems like we all have an actor/porn star sharing our name strangely enough. I think my most common one may be a sportscaster, spelled differently.

I rather count on not getting blacklisted - even though my name is all over - because even in my suburb there are three or four people who have my given name. But that also means old friends from childhood are less likely to find me. So far I haven't had any other MS's mistakes attributed to me, e.g., by a bank, but I suppose that could happen too. Sort of a backwards identity theft?

Paul Merrill said...

I keep a private journal on my hard drive. It is backed up on an external hard drive. If there's a fire, both are gone.

Brainwave - I'll back it up on a flash drive & keep that in a separate place.

As to my on-line identity, I'm happy to point others to that. I recently added a newsletters section, but at the good advice of a missionary friend, I "cleaned" the letters I post there of any family news and peraonal address.

I do have a "private" blog that is G-rated but has some content that some out there just wouldn't understand. (It's not part of my Google profile and probably appears on page 300 of a Google search for me.)