If you are on Twitter or other social networks with a public profile—congratulations—you’ve made a deal that is not dissimilar from the deals celebrities have made for decades. You’ve signed away your right to privacy, whatever that means these days. I saw the Justine Sacco saga unfolding in real time, first in my Facebook feed and then on Twitter. I watched and talked to others about it. I questioned and joked as millions of us globally awaited her landing and then watched as the mainstream media predictably covered this after the “first responders” followed it with intensity.
But I wanted to think about this whole thing in a more personal light, as I think about how I’ve managed my “social identities” over the years. I went “public” back in 2006—the first time I blogged. This was before Facebook and Twitter. Those came as well as did the notion of becoming something of a quasi celebrity figure in the digital world. This isn’t to be confused with real celebrity, but what most people fail to comprehend is that even if you have followings in the tens vs. the hundreds or thousands or even millions—what you have done is entered “public life”.
And most of us aren’t ready for it. I didn’t have to learn the hard way as Justine did, but as I joined Twitter in 2007 and began to amass followers, I realized that even if people weren’t responding, they were watching me. I had the benefit of being able to meet such people in real life and they would come up to me at conferences and events and effortlessly recall moments of my life that even I had forgotten. They knew about it, because I had told them about it. On Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
I made a deal to live my life in public.
Guess what. You probably did as well. Only you may have not had the same experiences as me. I was lucky to have this awareness early on in my career and always having an employer reminded me that I should be myself but I should also, always have my friend by my side. My friend is my filter.
Your filter is the voice inside your head and heart that says “if you post this than that could happen—do you want that and are you willing to take the risk”? A filter is the thing that stops every single random thought that pops into your head from being spoken or written.
I have typed out many drafts which I have never published to this day. Tweets, photos, videos etc. I don’t view it as self censorship as much as I do judgment. I imagine that other public figures have mastered this as well—they are free to be themselves and many are authentic, but they keep their filters close by. The really good ones can get their points across even with a filter in place.
We all have more in common with people like Justine or Phil, or even myself than we think. Have a public profile on Twitter? You’ve made a deal to go on record. A reporter will quote you and you can get screen grabbed faster than a meme gets made on an inter continental flight.
Welcome to public life. Please have your filter handy or engage at your own risk.