I got a lot of thought-provoking feedback yesterday on my post, "Is job security keeping us from being ourselves online?" One of the most interesting responses was actually an e-mail from my close friend William Sabados, a research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
I wanted to share Bill's thoughts with you folks, since I think he does a far better job than I did of capturing the big-picture issue of online privacy:
With Twitter or a blog, you have an open universe. You don't know who is receiving the message and you have even less idea how they intend to use the information. You cannot adjust to fit the context because there are multiple simultaneous possible contexts.
I think the real danger of the medium is when people choose to conduct themselves in an open universe as if they were in a closed universe. They choose to ignore the open universe assumption because they find it inconvenient or like to assume security through obscurity (which has been proven to be a poor strategy time and time again.) In doing such, they are taking on the risk that whatever they say can come back and haunt them.
I suppose the reality of the situation is to decide how risk-averse you are and try to post in accordance with the amount of risk you're willing to take.
I think it's vital that, as Bill says, people recognize how much of our lives exist in the open universe of social media.
As I told him in a reply, it bothers me when people acknowledge only part of the open universe ("my boss could be listening") while ignoring the bigger issues. People often seem far more concerned about saying something potentially embarrassing than they are about saying something that could potentially threaten their family's safety (pictures and names of children, public posts about being out of town, etc.).
But that's a topic for another day. Possibly another day quite soon.