“Be professional from now,” she said. “Because they will Google you.” Immediately, smartphones lit up across the lecture theatre. Teacher candidates, terrified that their careers would be over before they’d launched, wrecked by an algorithm. “Every trace will be found,” she said, and I remembered those deleted tweets – or did I only think I’d deleted them? Best to check before I meet the Principal.
Today I’ve been wrestling with the online giants, struggling to contain my profile. It’s melancholy work, viewing yourself through hostile eyes, especially when the hostility is so widely sanctioned. This year, privacy’s the responsibility of the individual, not the community. I mean if someone hacks into your Facebook account it’s your fault. So you won’t find me there, now, even if you’re a Friend of a Friend. And my previous blog is invisible as of lunchtime, because I couldn’t face assessing the content of each individual post. “2588 public entries have now been changed to be private,” the website declared. Better safe than sorry.
It was a great blog, describing seven year-long projects in which I’d repeat the same action every day. It was historic, too, spanning a period in which blogging burgeoned and plateaued, troubled by the “social media” it had partly inspired, and which now makes me shut it down. I’d be radically different if I hadn’t started the blog. It’s connected me to an international community of artists as well as a local scene around the Emerging Writers’ Festival, at which I’ve spoken about online writing. It also informed my work at Museum Victoria [Project Coordinator, Online Learning] and the Uniting Church [Schools Liaison Worker and writer of the “Uniting Schools” blog]. It’ll shape my practice as a teacher, too, which makes it doubly ironic that I’ve shut it down.
These are odd times. Half a decade ago, it looked as if the internet might transition our culture to one in which we’d all been exposed, and recovered from it. Now condemnation’s back, veiling itself as prudence. And, while I understand our lecturer’s advice, I wish we didn’t have to take it. By scrambling to hide our profiles I feel we enable a culture of blame, in which those “found out” elicit judgement instead of sympathy, condemned not for bad behaviour but for checking the wrong box.
Our new scapegoat: those who can’t wrestle Facebook to the ground.