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In 2003, I opened a Friendster account. In 2007, a MySpace account. In 2008, a Facebook account. In 2009, a LinkedIn account. In 2010, a Twitter account and a dot429 account. Most recently, in 2011, I opened a Friendfactor account. Needless to say, over the past eight years, I've been pretty busy on a variety of social networking sites.
Each of these platforms offers a different experience for users. Friendster, which launched in 2002, allowed you to create a simple profile and upload photos. MySpace, which launched in 2003, introduced the comment wall so you could leave messages for your friends. Facebook, which launched at Harvard in February 2004 and then to all in September 2006, took ideas from MySpace and made them more functional and added in new features like the "POKE." LinkedIn, which launched in 2003, provided a professional environment where you could upload your resume and connect with colleagues and network for job prospects. Twitter, which launched in 2006, let you easily follow your friends to share instant updates and vice versa. In 2008, dot429 created the first professional LGBT and straight ally platform so that members in the community could easily connect and network with one another. Lastly, in 2010, Friendfactor created the first social platform dedicated solely to LGBT advocacy.
Even though each platform offers different functionality and serves a different purpose, there's one thing that has remained the same for me - I've always been openly gay on them. Without restriction, I've allowed my peers to post comments or photos that would allow one to identify that I was gay. Because I've been openly gay for more than half of my life, whether someone in my network accepts whether I'm gay or not has never been a concern of mine. I will note that I do have most of my colleagues at my day job blocked from my wall and profile information on Facebook. This isn't because I'm uncomfortable being openly gay but rather because I enjoy having some control over what's being shared and what's not being shared with my professional peers.
The reality is, not everyone is openly gay like I am. Many hide their sexuality from others for professional, personal, or for safety reasons. Sometimes it is for reasons that are known by peers and sometimes they're not. However, with the influx of social networking sites and users being accustomed to the idea of sharing everything they do with their online communities, it seems many have lost the notion of what privacy is and what respecting it means. It is one thing to exploit what you yourself do in your life on these platforms but it is another when you start sharing what your friends are doing
Last year, I explored the idea of whether someone who is gay should indeed be openly gay on these platforms and what it meant for their privacy in a post entitled, "Should I Be Me?" (click here for the cross post on Bilerico) The post explored the idea that not everyone who is on Facebook, or any other social networking site, is openly gay. Your peers may be openly gay to you because you make them comfortable to share such information, but they may not be openly gay to their family or friends back home.
For the piece, I used the fictional couple, Chad and Jason, to illustrate my point. Chad works for a liberal book publishing company and volunteers for a variety of LGBT organizations in his free time. Jason, the boyfriend of Chad, is a lawyer who hides his sexuality for professional reasons but also enjoys volunteering for the LGBT organizations. During one of their volunteer excursions, a fellow volunteer snaps a photo of Chad and Jason at work and uploads the photo onto Facebook. Voila, Jason's sexuality is at risk of being revealed to his professional colleagues.
Here's another example, which isn't fictional and happened after I wrote the 'Should I Be Me?' post. I did some traveling recently to visit a friend. My friend is openly gay to me but not on their Facebook account. Like any tourist, I brought my camera to many of the activities we did. Snapping photos here and there of tourist attractions was not a problem but when it came to social activities like hanging out at the gay bar or having dinner with her girlfriend, she asked that I not post those photos on Facebook. It's not that she is uncomfortable being gay but rather because she wanted to have some control over how she presents herself on Facebook. She feels it is irrelevant for people who are acquaintances or business connections to know that she is gay. She saves this personal information only for her closest friends. If people want to jump to the conclusion that she is straight, then so be it, but she feels that if someone really wants to get to know her, they will discover that she is gay when the time is right.
I wanted to share this real life example because it happened after I wrote the piece, "Should I Be Me?" Alexandra Samuel, the director of the Social and Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC, caught wind of my piece last year. She adds to my post in her own critique:
If there's one more lesson I would add to Leone's list, it's that the nuances of being out online should remind us that many people have life situations and circumstances we don't know about -- circumstances that can explain online behaviours that otherwise perplex us. Before you judge someone's authenticity online, consider the possibility that they could have valid reasons for selective self-disclosure.
Alexandra's exact point is illustrated by my friend's request not to post certain pictures that would identify her as being gay. Fortunately for my friend, she was comfortable enough to ask me not to post pictures that would jeopardize her request for online privacy but not everyone has these types of relationships and not everyone is comfortable asking their friends not to share photos or personal information about them online.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to take a deep dive into what it means to be openly LGBT on these social media platforms. Social media sites aren't going anywhere. If anything, they're only getting more personalized and allow users to share personal information about themselves and their friends more freely.
So tell me, are you a victim of an unwanted social post that solicited something about yourself that you didn't want others to know?
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