Privacy issues and homeschool/mommy blogging

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about diversity in the homeschool and mommy-blogger world. Not SAHM or working mom, not breast-feeding or bottle feeding, and not (at this moment, at least) about religious or secular lifestyles. I’ve been noticing the wide range of attitudes people have about privacy, as seen by how they refer to and present the details of their lives and families in their blogs.

Here’s a shocker for you: the names I use for members of my family in this blog are not our real names. They are, however, names that each of us answer to at least two dozen times a day, so you are getting to know us by name, just not by our legal identities. (Daddyman being kind of a no-brainer, sure, but a nod to the awesome Smrt Mama, regardless.) My husband’s and my names are generic and semi-anonymous, so we deliberately gave our kids slightly less boring names, and I’m 100% confident (because I just tried it) that googling just my girls’ first names by themselves will result in finding an old blog of mine from back when new mommy hormones were making me overly trusting. (Which I need to go fix, I know.)

Some parents use their full names, and their childrens’ full names,  and even their birthdays and towns they live in, and they are not all doing it out of naiveté like I was, either, but by active choice.  An old acquaintance from high school is a top mommy-blogger, and she just totally lays it out there.  She doesn’t type about super personal/controversial stuff, so the potential for retribution/embarrassment is pretty much nil, but still.  (She *is* dealing with small-scale celebrity, though, and the ever-present public eye that comes with it.  Yes, I like having a growing readership, but I’m not envying her getting accosted by her asethetician!)

Other parents give themselves and their children pseudonyms, as I have, but some seem to have gone too far.  DD#2?  Really?  I’m sure she wouldn’t object to you calling her by a name (instead of a number and a gender), and maybe tell us something about her personality too.  Not that ‘Big D’ is all that personalized, but I *have* been calling her that for years now, so there’s that, at least.  (Ok, sometimes – rarely – I call them Thing 1 and Thing 2, but that’s a whole different story, by today’s birthday boy, no less, and joke, besides.)

Pictures complicate the situation.  Some folks show no pictures of their children at all, others just the back  of their heads and/or side/non-identifying views, and some use their daughter’s smiling face as their blog’s button!  Some show just the parent-blogger’s face, and some no images of writer/writees at all.  Some, like me, show our kids’ faces, but not our own, possibly because we are always the one behind the camera (or in dire need of a shower).

Location is another biggie. Sure, someone can write fairly anonymously from NYC, but from Vermont, as I am?  I’m not well-known in the homeschool community here, but, as my kids age, and we get more involved, we likely will be (just by being active), so we might well get identified that way.  (Not sure though; mountainous state + bad weather much of the year = not getting out and about over long distances as much as we might, even if the state is on the small side.)

I’m kind of torn, to be honest with you. I have given this URL to some friends and family, and identify some folks by real name, because I want this to be integrated into my life, you know?  Keeping my blog totally separate from my community would keep it from being as valuable to me as it could be.  In contrast, I want to be able to be straight about things here; my choices, my opinions.  I don’t want to censor myself beyond the bounds of public decency (if only Northern, liberal ones, but still), as that, too, would sort of defeat my purpose in writing, and, likely, yours in reading, as well.

So, personal friends and family know our ‘real’ names, and might use them here once in a while, by accident, if not by intent.  I also acknowledge that face recognition technology, either the organic kind found in the homeschooling mom who it turns out lives down the street, or the electronic kind that I’m sure Google has cooking up in their lab, might out my kids or I in a glance or a keystroke. 

Oh well.  I refuse to be paranoid about it.  Cautious, sure; no amount of connection with an internet community (even of friends and family) is worth my family’s safety, but insulating ourselves utterly from community and connection can be damaging too.  I’ve been learning a lot about my fellow homeschoolers and their lives in the last few months, and I’ve brought a lot of good ideas and materials into our lives as a result.  You also keep me sane when I need to talk to a (theoretical) adult audience about things I’m pondering.  (Love you, Daddyman, but sometimes your eyes glaze over!) 

Blogger crossing! Post with care!

Ergo, I’ll continue to talk about things that I feel need talking about, try not to embarrass anyone, and, generally, endeavor to be relevent and non-stupid.  I do this both for you, who won’t care otherwise, and also for my kids and family, who deserve the respect of having their stories told and pictures shown in a worthwhile and appropriate manner.

(Yes, if my life were far more interesting, I could be as outrageously funny and morbidly fascinating as My Parents Are Crazier Than Yours, but this blog isn’t about catharsis as hers is.  I’m here for connection with you and documentation for me.  I want this to be something that I *want* to look back at in ten years, to see what we were thinking, and how much we’ve grown.)

Pretty please let me know if you think I screw this up or get this right.  I want to know!

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4 Responses to Privacy issues and homeschool/mommy blogging

  1. I am one of those people who doesn’t hide anything. You can easily find anything you want to know about me and real names on my blog and elsewhere in my life. I have always been that way and it’s just who I am. I have very few secrets and it’s by being real and honest that I’ve made some truly real and honest friendships online and off.

    I think for me, part of it is that I’ve lived through so much of the real-life scary stuff that I just can’t get caught up in what-if scenarios about things that *might* happen. I had my first stalker at age 12 and he was the real boogey man variety (a very bad, very scary man) and have lost track of how many stalkers I’ve had since then, both male and female. I have lived through enough abuse and evil that I know that 99% of the time, the stuff right in our families and homes and neighborhoods is way more dangerous than some unknown person on a computer who develops a fixation or whatever. When my aunt was murdered, it was by her charming fiance and not some guy lurking in a back alley. When I was abused as a child, it was by the babysitter, my mother’s boyfriend and other trusted people in my environment. Ultimately, the stalkers were far less harmful to me than people I knew. Also, it comes down to opportunity for most predators.

    It also helps that I live in a very safe community. Since it is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, everybody is aware of everything that happens and anybody who visits. Our neighbor once told me when a friend of ours from out of town had been parked in front of our house one afternoon on his way through the area. We have a ridiculously large police force for a town of 700 and they’re very vigilant. Our kids are virtually always with us, which makes a big difference to me too.

    I think our parents’ generation focused all of their fears on strangers with candy instead of the predators right in our churches, clubs, scout groups, schools, neighborhoods and families. This generation focuses our fears on strangers on the internet. Of course it’s good to always teach children safety measures for online and off and to be aware, but I think it’s such a small part of the real threats to our families’ safety.

    Also, if people want to find out about you from your blog or elsewhere, they don’t need you to post details. It is amazingly simple to find out names, phone numbers and addresses from information online, so keeping basic information like first names secret can give a false sense of security.

    I generally forget how many people read my blog and consider it my little journal, a record of our days and a sort of ongoing sharing with friends. The numbers always startle me when I see how many people have visited, since in my mind it’s the handful who comment. 🙂 I get so much out of it that I’m content with the trade-offs in terms of privacy and such. I would just be too lonely keeping all of this to myself, and it would feel off to make up names and identities for us all. And at this point it’s all a bit moot in our case!

    • Siggi says:

      I would have felt odd making up identities too; fortunately we have more than enough nicknames in our family to be able to pick and choose without feeling the slightest bit phony. My husband calls me Siggi so much that when he actually used my real name earlier today, it struck me as odd! I really hope that it doesn’t set up a barrier between myself and my readers; these ARE our names, just not our legal ones!

      I decided to go with pseudonyms so that someone we meet in passing can’t google us and find our all the thoughts in my head, all the plans in our calendar, etc. If I’m going to be dealing with someone in person, I’d rather know what they know about me, then have them learn things from my blog and my not know it. My issue isn’t with strangers, but with acquaintances that are ‘closer’ than I assume them to be.

  2. Angela says:

    I’m one that shows pictures and uses real names. 🙂 I used to have an online baby store, and Satori and I were used in so many of the photos. We had tens of thousands of customers around the world who knew our full names, address, etc… Nothing bad happened then. Now we moved to a hidden mountain home, and I’ve removed our address, last names. I can’t even get people to find our house that I *want* to find us. Our police force is also very quick and responsive for our little community. Anyway, I try to keep my blog pretty tame, because I know my family, friends, relatives read it, as well as people from all walks of life.

    I’ve always had a big Internet presence and I was a web programmer. I guess I feel pretty comfortable online. If I wasn’t who I am, I might be one of those who’d be leery to use real names and faces.

    • Siggi says:

      Thanks for the comment, Angela. I’m contemplating ‘coming out’ with our real names, but I’m still thinking about it, esp since I tend to have strong opinions about things!

      I think that online privacy might be an illusion, anyway. Like I wrote in my post, googling my daughters’ first names together finds them in a nonce, and, knowing that you used to run a baby store, I just found pictures of you and Satori from back when she was a toddler, as well as info about your company, all in two searches and less than three minutes. I didn’t find your name or address, but I wasn’t looking for them, either.

      I guess I’m still wrapping my head around that idea that one can be candid and show pictures, and still have the same sort of anonymity that one has, say, carrying on a conversation on the subway. The differences that worry me are that my chats on the T won’t still be archived somewhere on the internet when search engines take the next leap, and I can pay attention to the people around me when I’m talking, and shut up if I notice someone acting cagily!

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