Home > identity, privacy, social computing > Political Me & Professional Me

Political Me & Professional Me

Do you keep your professional and personal identities separate online?  I’ve tried a few times to set up different accounts, but it never quite works. And I know you shouldn’t share anything online you don’t want everyone to see.  Once you share anything with a third party, they could do anything with it–by accident or on purpose. So mostly I try to keep my politics to myself.

This is particularly important to me, because I teach classes with students with a wide range of political views. In particular, I teach our class “Computers, Society, and Professionalism,” which touches on a lot of controversial content. Often I find I have the most in common ethically with some of the students whose political views are most divergent from my own. Whoever they are, I want them to feel comfortable in my class and know that their view of the world is respected and taken seriously (which it is).

I’m not always so careful–I often post things about freedom of speech online, privacy, or protecting our oceans. But I’m not as free to express my views as I’d like to be. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary: My new research project is about encouraging people to be involved in civic affairs. One of our working hypotheses is that giving people public credit for being involved may encourage them to be more involved.  But should they really do that?  I wouldn’t want to encourage people to be politically active in ways that will have unfortunate personal and work consequences for them in the future.  Is being reserved about one’s political views in public being a responsible, pragmatic grown-up, or being a coward?

The public exchange of views is a fundamental premise of democracy.  I believe that encouraging people to be involved is essential. But maybe the new system we’re developing needs to have some reminders–choose your issues carefully!  Or you may regret that posting, like you may come to regret a tattoo–a permanent record of a temporary feeling.

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  1. August 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Happens to me all the time.
    I started using Facebook as a blog, a couple of years ago, when “the” current crisis exploded, and have all kind of reactions. What astonished me was that many of my friends, instead of focusing in the subjects I was bringing (or trying to bring) to discussion, they felt I was being patronising, like I knew what they didn’t or saw what they couldn’t. But any of them made a single attempt to continue the debate in objective terms.
    We will need to develop a new stage of maturity in society, in which we’ll be able to leave our fears aside, and be ready to open our minds, even to listen to opinions completely opposite to ours. But that will mean a new awareness of respect for the other and also to prepare ourselves with solid bases in order to engage in those discussions, not only express an opinion or a simple “hunch”.

  2. August 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Good questions!

    I try to keep my non-professional activity under a very lightly guarded pseudonym, which basically means its easy to find that stuff if you are looking, but googling my real name won’t immediately bring it up. But the separate identities keep merging as new media pop up (eg, Google+, which won’t allow pseudonyms).

    Latest boundary story: My 12-year-old and his classmates appear to be the last remaining users of Google Buzz. I recently put up a blog post full of abstruse speculations about religion and the singularity, which somehow got gated through my son’s Buzz account to a gaggle of young girls, who were mightily confused. One of their parents wrote me a slightly indignant email.

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