Why I Scrapped Snapchat (And Love Instagram Stories)

Before I get into this, I want to make something super clear. I’m talking about why I scrapped Snapchat, not why you should. This is totally about my preferences and how I use social media. It’s not going to be the same for everyone and I’m not for a moment suggesting that no-one should be using Snapchat, that everyone should be embracing Instagram Stories or that you must all choose between the two.

A couple of months ago, I decided to give Snapchat a go. There was no deep and meaningful reason for this beyond the fact that I like playing with different social media platforms and I hadn’t played with Snapchat yet. Prior to my Snapchat experimentation, I’d been aware of Instagram Stories, a feature built into the Instagram app (Stories FAQ | Stories launch article on Instagram’s blog). It’s a blatant copy of Snapchat, right down to the recently introduced filters, but since I adore pretty much everything Instagram does (apart from removing the chronological feed and the fact that it’s owned by Facebook…grr!) I figured I’d spend a bit of time getting to know it.

What ended up happening was that IG Stories really highlighted all the things about Snapchat that didn’t work for me. Because of the ephemeral nature of IG Stories, I share pictures that I don’t consider artistic enough to post in other places. I also share content that might be interesting to look at for a few seconds as part of my day but that I wouldn’t share elsewhere (I’m not a “check out my breakfast” Instagrammer or Tweeter, but I totally Story this stuff). Something else that appeals to me about IG Stories is being able to share the less polished and glamourous aspects of my existence that I still want to put ‘out there’, like raw moments in a life with chronic illness, without these posts lasting forever.

While I was using Snapchat, I shared those things there too – the nature of my content was not specific to IG Stories – but Snapchat just wasn’t doing it for me, and that’s what I want to talk about here. It’s confusing that Snapchat also has a feature called ‘your story’, where you add posts to a stream of your day rather than sending them to specific people. To differentiate for the purpose of this blog, ‘story/stories’ with a lowercase ‘s’ refers to that feature within Snapchat and IG Stories, and ‘Story/Stories’ with a capital ‘S’ refers specifically to IG Stories.

First, let’s look at some things IG Stories and Snapchat have in common…

  • Posts can be photos or videos
  • Posts to your story disappear after 24 hours
  • You can choose to save your own posts to your device (or not)
  • Posts can be customised with text, graphics and lenses/face filters (this is a shiny new feature on IG Stories, being rolled out today)
  • There are no comments or likes on posts in stories, so responses are sent as private messages
  • Posts can be sent to specific people as well as being shared as part of your story (see why the story/Story thing is hard to write about?)

And here are the differences…

  • Providing your Instagram account isn’t set to Private, your Story can be viewed by anyone who can access the rest of your content. Stories on Private accounts can only be viewed by friends. On Snapchat, you can ONLY see someone’s posts after adding them as a friend. This means you have no clue what someone’s content is like until AFTER you’ve added them, so you have no idea whether or not you’ll actually have any interest in what they’re posting without adding them first. I encountered some pretty vile shit on Snapchat because of this.
  • It’s basically impossible to browse or search users on Snapchat itself. I used an app called Ghostcodes, which allows you to browse profiles based on categories and keywords, but you still have to add someone on Snapchat itself to see their posts or communicate with them. Because IG Stories is part of the Instagram app, all Instagram’s usual search and browse functions apply.
  • IG Stories allows you to mention/tag other users in your posts. I haven’t been able to find that function in Snapchat, or any information about it, so I’m assuming it isn’t a thing. I could be wrong though.
  • While Snapchat allows you to contribute to live stories, these are location-based and/or event-based, so you’re contributing your post to an over-all collaborative thing. IG Stories allows you to go live without these restrictions. Your live videos vanish immediately once you finish streaming. Obviously this has its positives and negatives, but it definitely makes me more inclined to use the live video function without giving as much of a shit about looking rough or doing daft stuff (both of which are constants in my life).

Why this stuff matters to me but might not matter to you…

  • I reckon Snapchat is probably great if you know loads of people who also use Snapchat, which I don’t. The people I follow on Instagram are people who I either already have a connection with through a shared appreciation of each other’s photos, or whose posts interest me enough that I want to follow them and see more of their content. Snapchat doesn’t allow for this at all.
  • Snapchat is also probably really useful for people who are focused on broadcasting rather than (just) making mutual connections. I assume it might be great for brands or individuals who are looking for another channel of distribution for primarily video-based content, and I know some YouTubers with thousands of followers who use Snapchat for things like Q&A sessions. Although teenagers and people in their early twenties make up the largest number of both Snapchat and Instagram’s users, Instagram has a much larger number of people in older age groups than Snapchat does. So if your intended audience leans towards a lower age range, or you’re a younger person with lots of friends of a similar age, Snapchat could totally work for you. I’m not pulling this information out of my ass. It’s available here, if you’re interested.
  • Some people use the whole “add me to see my content” approach as a way to gain followers. Setting your Instagram account to private means that if you have a vaguely interesting profile and you Like other people’s stuff, they might follow you just to check out your posts. Since you need to add someone on Snapchat to see their posts, this could be a useful tool to entice followers from other platforms, or those who have found you via Ghostcodes, to follow you. This is a million miles from my approach to social media, so it doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

In conclusion…
I don’t see the point in using two platforms for exactly the same thing, especially when one has lots of features that I find useful and the other doesn’t. I’m all about the mutual connections and I’m already established on Instagram in that I’ve been using it for a while, so it made more sense for me to hang on to Instagram and make more use of Stories than to keep Snapchat as well when I wasn’t really enjoying it or getting much out of it.

As the song goes, you gotta know when you hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to choose one platform for sharing videos of your cat and selfies with animal ears over another…

If you’d like to see ephemeral life fragments in my Instagram Stories, as well as lots of photos, (my entire IG account is public) you can find me at instagram.com/tanyasimonesimpson

I’m On Snapchat Now, Because Reasons

UPDATE 16TH MAY 2017: My experimentation with Snapchat was short-lived. Read about why here.

Every time I read about how ridiculous/self-indulgent/disgusting selfie culture (whatever the fuck that even means) is and how terrible/offensive/pretentious it is for people to share pictures of the minutiae of their lives on the internet, I think, “Hang on, I’m ridiculous, self-indulgent, disgusting, terrible, offensive and pretentious! Why am I not doing more of that stuff?”.

So I downloaded Snapchat. My Story is set to public (so far). My “who can contact me” thingy is set to Friends, even though I haven’t added any yet. I don’t entirely know how to. I’m a bit weirded out about the idea that if I add someone as a friend they can call me. Like with voices. It seems like that’s a thing. Citation needed. I have another browser tab open with a Google search for “snapchat how to”. I made the little picture up there with my face in the ghost thing so that’s good. Look, I’m 36 years old, shut up.

If you follow me (or add me or whatever you do on Snapchat) you will be exposed to an interactive ephemeral visual art experience. Or you’ll see lots of photos of random crap I encounter as I go about my day. However you want to look at it. To be honest, it’ll probably just be a series of hideous mistakes captioned with “What the fuck am I even doing here?” for about a week.

As far as I know, you can follow/add/whatever me by taking a picture of the thing with the ghost and the dots and then doing something in the app. I think you can also search for me. My username is tanyassimpson (cause I’m super witty). From what I’ve read on some embarrassingly “teaching your dad to type” style articles that were exactly at the level I required, adding someone as a friend is a one way thing, then they can choose to add you as a friend if they want. So if you seem to be an alright human being or if we obviously know each other, I’ll probably do that.

This will be an interesting experiment. Or something. See you there!


Warmth from Within and Without

warmth from within and without

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a miscellaneous life stuff update here so I figured it was time. As I write this, I’m curled up in an oversized armchair (bought by my 6ft 4in husband, so perfectly excessive for 5ft 3in me), listening to a station on Play Music called Beautiful Piano Ballads (Play Music stations are my new obsession, don’t even get me started), drinking chai and inhaling the glorious aroma of a chocolate scented candle on my altar, blessed by the glow of early spring sunlight streaming through the french doors. And you know what? I feel relaxed. Genuinely, completely chill for the first time in ages.

In my last job and the connected volunteer work I was involved with until late last year, this is when the busiest time of year would have been kicking off. I would have been barely coping with an insane amount of work while under a constant barrage of expectation and pressure over things that sat too uneasily with my personal values. It’s not that I didn’t deeply enjoy parts of it, but it was like when you get back from a camping trip where you were caught in a storm and your tent leaked and you twisted your ankle on the way down the mountain – even though it was exhausting and painful, you still did it again because you survived the ordeal and only remembered the amazing bits. I’m not throwing total shade on ex-volunteering-and-job because it gave me so many incredible experiences and introduced me to some of my best friends. It’s pretty fucking fantastic not to be doing it anymore though, even if leaving it behind gouged a chunk out of my heart in the shape of things that could not be made OK enough for me to continue.

For the first time in ages, the onset of spring feels like the arrival of a close friend bearing coffee and hugs rather than a close friend bearing a hastily packed parachute and the suggestion of sky diving. I’m not really a spring kind of person and I usually get my energy buzz on in the autumn, but this year is different. It’s good. I feel inspired and excited but without all the nervous twitching and insomnia that usually goes along with those things.  I feel free.

Right now, I’m writing a book. I am honest-to-goodness doing the thing I’ve said I was going to do for the last thirty-something years. I’m also learning how to write a book as I write the book so it’s not going to be a masterpiece but it is going to be a learning experience and whatever comes from it will be sent out into the world in some manner. My goal is just to finish it and to have grown from the experience. Then I will write another book and it will be better. I’ve already decided this is how it’s going to go.

Since I started on this project a couple of weeks ago (I rambled about it here), I’ve been allowing myself to write whatever comes into my head and embrace the joy of happy brainspew. I have a kind of beginning and a kind of ending and a vague idea of what might happen in between. My characters have been revealing their voices and their histories. I’ve been asking them questions and letting them answer in their own time. The next bit of the mission is to solidify their identities through mood boards, personality tests and other getting-to-know-you stuff. Once that’s done, I’ll be better positioned to understand how they’ll navigate the world that is the as-yet-unplotted story.

I’m also enjoying social media in a way that I hadn’t really felt able to in a long while. I’m using Facebook less and less because even with the wonder that is the FB Purity Chrome extension it still generally irritates the shit out of me. I still have my artist page where I post stuff relating to my writing and photography, and my FB-based writing group totally owns my soul, but I’m just not feeling the personal-connection vibe on Facebook-in-general anymore.

I’m using Twitter and Tumblr a lot more often than I was (Tumblr is basically internet crack, seriously, I could lose hours on the mobile app way too easily), and I’m posting my writing regularly on Medium. I’ve been falling out of love with Instagram since they took away the chronological feed, but I still post there and have a browse when I have time and can get the app to work without crashing. I am, and will probably forever be, attached in so many ways to DeviantArt, where I’m a photography Community Volunteer. The thing with DA is that there’s a lot of stuff I’m not into on the site, but it’s so easy to customise my experience so that I don’t see any of that stuff. I don’t see it as a professional platform but unlike people who hate the open-to-all-standards aspect of it, I adore the fact that it’s filled with people of all ages and skill levels. It’s had, and continues to have, its ups and downs but it’s a place where I learned and grew so I’m happy to support other people learning and growing there.

My new favourite is Ello. Not to sound too hipstery but I was there at the beginning when it was invite-only and was spoken of as an alternative to Facebook. It has evolved into a creative hub and I love the tightly knit community, especially the awesome writers I’ve met there. It still obviously has a long way to go and things change constantly as it finds its feet, but I feel welcome and at home there. And there’s no advertising, so the user is not the product, which is great. You should all join Ello right now. Seriously. Do it.

This has become a massive ramble so I’ll leave it there and go put my characters through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I hope you’re all having a good week.

❤ Tanya

It’s OK To Express Yourself Through Images Of Yourself

This is a reminder that it’s OK to express yourself through images of yourself. It’s OK to take photos of yourself, to draw or paint pictures of yourself. It’s also OK to write poetry, stories, essays and blogs based on your own experiences and ideas.

It’s OK to share those things with your family, your friends, your community and the whole world if you want to. If you don’t want to, that’s OK too, but it doesn’t mean that other people shouldn’t. Your choices are your own and deciding where, when or even if your image and your words are seen is an act of empowerment and you deserve to be empowered, to empower yourself.

Self-portraits are not new. Autobiographies and memoirs are not new. But somehow as soon as people – especially women, especially young women, especially people in minority groups or oppressed groups, or people on the fringes of society, or people with lifestyles outside of the mainstream – have access to the tools and channels to place their pictures and words in the public sphere without prior approval from the powers that be, it’s all ridicule, shaming and accusations of narcissism.

It’s OK to feel confident. It’s OK to feel beautiful. It’s OK to not feel confident or not feel beautiful or not to care about, or be motivated by, the concept of beauty in the slightest but to accept that you are as worthy as anyone else of existing and taking up space and being seen and heard and represented.

And if anyone ever dares to tell you that your face or your body or your voice are not acceptable, if anyone ever dares to tell you to sit down and shut up, to be less visible, to be less anything, that says nothing at all about you and everything about them.

Hearts on Sleeves and Catalysts for Change

Do you ever think about a thing you do, ask yourself why you do it and find yourself unable to formulate an adequate answer? After last night’s I’m going to vomit my soul up all over my blog for no apparent reason session, I fell asleep wondering why I do that , woke up this morning still wondering and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

There’s a common assumption that people write about themselves for attention. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, but if I wanted internet attention, I would get a whole lot more of it, a whole lot more easily, if I posted my soul-spew on Facebook for a few hundred of my closest friends and causal acquaintances to read. Even on its best day, this blog gets absolutely nowhere near that level of views, so it’s not that.

On a similar note, perhaps it’s a desire for validation. Again, that would come quickly and in vast quantities through Facebook where I know for certain that people would respond with kindness, acceptance and love. I would be reminded that not only are there people who get it, but there are people I know and talk to all the time who get it. This blog is not a very commenty or interacty place (which I’m fine with), so posting anything here for validation would be utterly pointless.

It may be assumed that people empty their minds out into a blog because they don’t have anyone in ‘real life’ to talk to about their problems, feelings or dilemmas. Again, this is totally not the case for me. I’m incredibly lucky because, whether I deserve it or not, I have plenty of wonderful people in my life who I could talk to at any time about anything. I’m definitely not lacking in ‘real life’ communication opportunities, so that reason goes out the window too.

Sometimes when I read other people’s blogs where they talk about deeply personal issues, they explain that their reason for doing so is, at least in part, to help other people. You write about something personal and painful, someone else reads it and can relate to it, then boom! You have helped a person to feel less alone. I’d love to pretend this was my motivation because it would make me look like more of a decent human being than I probably am but the truth is, the other-people-relating factor is no more than a pleasant side effect for me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer, I need to write and ‘myself’ is an accessible subject. I would really like to say this is the reason, and perhaps it’s closer than all the others so far, but it still doesn’t hit the nail on the head. I write all the time about all sorts of things. I write for work. Even when I’m writing recreationally, I don’t always, or even particularly often, write autobiographically (although I often do write in first-person). I’m not short on external inspiration. I gluttonously absorb music, films, TV shows, books, news articles and personal conversations, curating them in my mind to return to later. I have an equally useful and irritating tendency to remember things in precise detail, word-for-word (I am the worst person in the world to argue with because when you play the “When did I say that?” card, I’ll be able to tell you when, where, what you were wearing and how good your hair looked at the time) so if I just wanted to write, it would take me all of 30 seconds to shuffle through my brain-files and find something to write about.

So maybe it’s actually none of those reasons. Maybe it’s something broader and less pin-down-able. Maybe I’m going to try and describe it here. Clue: I am going to try and describe it here. Strap in and hold on.

What if we didn’t exist in a culture of shame? What if it was no more difficult to talk about what hurts you than it is to talk about what makes you smile? What if it wasn’t viewed negatively to talk openly about mental illness or traumatic events or just feeling-down-because-reasons? What if doing so didn’t result in feelings of guilt because other people might have it worse? What if we didn’t score strength-points by keeping everything buried and hidden behind bullshit faux-inspirational quotes about choosing to be positive?

I’m not suggesting that everyone runs around screaming their problems in the face of whoever they encounter in the course of a day, but what if more people felt they could quietly (or not so quietly, whatever) place a small section of their heart in open view without having to earn the right to do so? What if that wasn’t viewed as a radical act? What could that mean for our collective sense of compassion and understanding?

I’m not going to answer that question and I don’t expect you to answer it either. I only ask that you think about it and the next time you feel like you need to write something, paint something, photograph something, sing something, as an act of release and relief, consider that it may also be an act of empowerment with the potential to reach far beyond your own experience. Consider that it, that you, may be a catalyst for change.

Selfies and Soapboxes

Today, a friend posted a link on Facebook to an article entitled Narcissistic, Maybe. But Is There More To The Art Of The Selfie?. It’s an interesting article and it’s short, so if you have a couple of minutes free right now you should totally go and read it. Or open it in a new tab and finish reading my blog post first…

I’m not going to make a habit of blogging replies I’ve written about links on Facebook but having written this particular reply, I realised it actually summed up my entire stance on selfies (or self-portraits, as people have been calling them probably since art and language allowed for it) so I’m getting on my soapbox and posting it here too. There is some swearing. Deal with it.

I’m all for people taking and sharing pictures of themselves, from mirror-shot selfies to artistic-as-fuck self portraits. In a world where you can be, and probably are being (CCTV in the streets, for example), filmed and photographed against your will or without your awareness, taking a photo of yourself, approving of it yourself and sharing it yourself is a massively political act demonstrating agency at a time when consent is not assumed to be necessary for your image to be captured, shared and used by others.

It’s also a push back against mainstream media projections of what is acceptable and desirable in a person’s appearance. We are all constantly bombarded with images of the ideal but as more people share pictures of themselves, however they do or don’t fit into or around that ideal, the more the message of “You must be at least this perfect to exist” is diluted because fuck it, look at this amazing variety of fascinating individuals expressing themselves, as themselves, however the hell they want.

Oh, Facebook! The Issue of Names and Social Media

Oh Facebook

A couple of months ago, I was delighted to read that Facebook had apologised to members of the LGBTQ+ community for locking accounts based on the use of pseudonyms. I was even more delighted to read that Facebook’s policy apparently “has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name”, according to Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox. This seemed to imply a welcome relaxation of Facebook’s real names policy. So why are so many of my friends now being locked out of their accounts unless they change their name or provide ID to prove that the name they use on Facebook is ‘real’?

Before I go any further, I would like to make it clear I am fully aware that a service such a Facebook can create their own terms, conditions and policies which users must adhere to if they want to continue to use the service. I’m aware that Facebook’s users are their product and paying advertisers are their customers. I am aware that if someone doesn’t like the way a service operates, they can simply stop using the service. I’m also aware that Facebook has an absolutely huge user base and actually functions pretty well when it comes to keeping in touch with friends, arranging events and managing groups of people, so it’s understandable that “just use something else” isn’t an entirely realistic option, especially as there isn’t really a viable something else just yet, or at least not one that is fully developed.

Facebook has been an outstanding resource when it comes to promoting the local charity I volunteer with. Even without the frustrating paid-for post Boosts, we have achieved a seriously impressive continuing level of reach and engagement. Facebook is our main social media outlet and our content there gets more hits than our frequently updated blog and website. Facebook has also proven to be super effective when it comes to organising groups of volunteers for events and for promoting the events themselves to a global audience. It’s annoying that about 90% of the people who Like and Follow our page don’t see our posts by default, unless we pay for them to see the posts, which we don’t. The expectation that non-profits, social groups, communities and individuals who use Facebook Pages (as opposed to personal profiles) for non-money-making ventures should pay to ensure the people who actively want to see their content do actually see it seems somewhat misguided, but that’s a post for another day.

For personal use, I would pay for the level of function and service that Facebook provides. Seriously. If there was an option to Do All The Useful Stuff without being bombarded with ads (or using AdBlock Plus to get rid of them) or having data sold to third parties, I would honestly part with money for that. I assume I’m not alone in this. I assume that the powers that be at Facebook have considered this potential revenue stream and decided that a lot more money can be made by treating users as the product not the customer. Perhaps not enough people would be willing or able to pay for an ad-free, privacy-respecting service. I assume that the people who run Facebook don’t care if they annoy a certain proportion of their users to the point where they delete their account or only use it for a fraction of the purposes it could potentially serve because there are no genuine competitors at this point.

What we have is a huge, global social media network filled with people who continue to use it even though the company that owns the network profits from selling their information to other companies, even though there are serious question marks over what information is sold and how it is obtained. Plenty of people don’t care but plenty will weigh up risks to their privacy against convenience and decide to continue to use their Facebook account anyway.

Common sense plays a part here. I don’t understand why anyone would have a completely public Facebook profile. I don’t understand why anyone would fill in ALL the information requested – where you’re from, where you live, where you’ve been to school and university, where you’ve worked, your favourite films and books, your email address and phone number, your full date of birth, your parents listed as Family in your Friends list, adoption of pets listed as Life Events and your full name as it appears on your birth certificate. Where else have you seen this information – full name, contact details, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, name of first pet – being asked for? Yep, security questions for services like online banking. Think carefully about whether or not you really want 561 of your closest friends and online acquaintances (or anyone and everyone, if your entire profile is set to public) to have that information.

I’ve been online since I was 15. I’m almost 34, so that’s quite a long time. I remember when everyone used pseudonyms, when a/s/l (age, sex, location) was a question you had to ask because that information wasn’t simply shared everywhere as standard, and you had no idea what the people you talked to every day in Yahoo chat rooms (remember Yahoo chat rooms?) looked like. I know there’s a whole set of issues that comes along with that level of total (optional) anonymity but there’s also a whole set of issues that come along with no anonymity at all.

I’m not secretive online, as you will probably know if you’ve browsed around my blog and thought “Ye gods, that woman is uninhibited” as you read deeply personal accounts of various experiences and opinions. I’m an open book. The contents of my head are out there for anyone wanting to read them. I will happily talk about what I got up to at the weekend, what I had for breakfast, my physical and mental health, sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, my cats, my marriage, my inside leg measurement (32 inches, by the way) and the fact that when I type the letter ‘m’ into my browser’s search bar it automatically populates with ‘Mads Mikkelsen smoking’ (I have unconventional image-based coping mechanisms – don’t judge me).

But. And there is a but. A big but. I like big buts and I cannot lie. I do not use my parentally-bestowed birth-certificate name on the internet. Even with a name that does not appear on my debit card, I am completely and utterly, painfully and shamelessly, over-sharingly, me. Right down to my chosen name.

So, about my chosen name. I answer to it. If someone shouts it in the street, I will turn around and look for the source of the voice. Last year, I was kind of amused that someone who had known me for months was surprised to find out that December wasn’t my ‘real’ name. This is the name I write under. This is the name I use on all social networks. I don’t use twenty different pseudonyms and pretend to be a 50 year old architect or a 21 year old professional crocodile wrangler. I am me, everywhere, all the time, in everything I do. There is no falsehood or fakeness at work here. I just don’t want to use my given name on the internet. Is this not quite logical, actually?

If I believed that communicating any of this to Facebook would make a difference to their policies (and not instantly result in me getting locked out of my account), I would send this to them printed on bright pink scented paper and wrapped in rainbows and kisses. Since I’m not a significant source of income for Facebook, I do not believe that anything I say or do will make any difference to anything about the way they operate and am resorting to writing about it on my blog instead because I’m annoyed and word-vomming here will at least stop me from ranting at my husband, who doesn’t deserve to have my rage hurled at him by questionable virtue of existing in our shared personal space.

So, without further ado, here is a non-exhaustive list of completely legitimate reasons why you might choose not to use your birth-certificate name on social media…

  • You have experience of abuse or intimate partner violence and do not wish to be found by the people who inflicted this suffering on you.
  • You are estranged from your family and do not want them to be able to contact you, or would prefer not to have obvious connections to them or that part of your life.
  • You experienced bullying or harassment at school or in a previous job and don’t want people from your past to appear in your present.
  • You live in a country where expressing non-mainstream political views could result in attack, arrest, imprisonment or death.
  • You are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans* or otherwise not cis-het and would prefer not to be outed to acquaintances, family members or employers on anything other than your own terms.
  • You actively speak out about issues that would put you at risk of threats to your safety if your real name and location were to be made public.
  • You run a business or for whatever reason have to provide work clients with your full name and would prefer that they weren’t able to easily seek you out on social media.
  • You work in, or are studying to work in, a field where a loss of privacy could directly affect your reputation and/or safety, as well as employment prospects. Think law enforcement, caring professions, educators, maybe even political office in 30 years time because who knows?
  • You would prefer that your children’s friends, or your parent’s friends, or your children’s friends’ parents, aren’t able to locate your social media profiles.
  • You would be happier if you didn’t pop in up in the “People you might know” section when your teachers, students, doctors or patients log in to Facebook.
  • You haven’t used your birth-certificate name for years and everyone knows you by your chosen name. Especially if you live in a country where you don’t actually have to change your name by deed poll for a new name to become real, legal and accepted (hello, Scotland!).
  • You have just applied for a job and don’t want your potential employers to form an opinion of you based on the sum of your recreational activities before even deciding whether or not to invite you for an interview.

This might not be such an issue for John Smith, as there are likely to be numerous people with the same name as you in any given town or city. It is more likely to be an issue for Marietta Jacobsen-Grynt. I pulled that name out of my head, but if you’re reading this and you’re actually called Marietta Jacobsen-Grynt, I sincerely hope I haven’t made you feel uncomfortable.

It is not wrong or dishonest to want to keep your work-life and life-life separate or to want to protect yourself from people who might wish you harm, or to publish erotic literature under a nom de plume while running an I.T. consultancy under the name on your passport. Yes, some people use pseudonyms to deceive, but using a pseudonym isn’t inherently deceitful. I know there’s the “If you want to keep something private, don’t put it on the internet” factor, but we live in a rapidly-changing world where it feels short sighted to simply grunt “No internet! Internet bad!” at the situation.

We should absolutely be practical and considerate when it comes to what we share online and how we share it, understanding that once we put it out there, it is potentially out there forever, out of our hands. I am not suggesting that we all renounce personal responsibility and expect gigantic corporations to set the bar for our values and ethics. Also, we can never even be 100% sure that a pseudonym won’t be connected to a given name. We take these risks, or we don’t. What we decide to put on the internet is, of course, completely our choice.

Often a collection of fairly mundane details, when viewed in a context of your choosing under a name that you are comfortable using, is not dangerous or scandalous. It’s the sum total of all those harmless, innocuous slices of every day life or opinion PLUS your legally identifying information that has the potential to cause serious problems. It’s an issue of freedom, of choice, of control, and these things should rest in the hands of each of us, ourselves, as autonomous individuals, not in the hands of companies that view us as units of data to sell to the highest bidder.