Readers that also follow me on Facebook might remember that I deleted my social media accounts about ten years ago, and avoided social media entirely for over a year. While I enjoyed keeping in touch with friends and colleagues around the country and world and sharing things that I find interesting, I found both the privacy concerns and the potential for time wastage to be so great that I decided to walk away. I returned—reluctantly—largely because I concluded that marketing and recruiting for my university low brass studio demanded a social media presence. Similarly, promoting my blog posts here as well as my published writing and recording projects in the present milieu demands social media engagement. I still struggle to avoid wasting time online, though I share far fewer serious articles than in the past and do not engage in arguments with “anonymous internet people.” Most importantly, I have found a way to at least somewhat mitigate my privacy concerns, which is my topic for today.
Social media users know that the people they “meet” there generally fall into two broad camps: those who post and share almost nothing, and those who post and share frequently. A middle ground hardly exists. Yet upon returning to social media usage in 2011 I was determined to carve out such a middle ground, what I call a “curated” social media presence. Since most of my social media activity is on Facebook, allow me to describe a few principles that I use in managing my presence there.
1. Very little remains on my personal timeline more than seven days. I very much enjoy sharing things that I find humorous with my “friends.” (We all know what that word means on Facebook.) During times of particular social or political unrest such as the present COVID-19 pandemic and associated quarantines, I tend to think that intelligent humor both breaks up the intensity of the moment while occasionally providing insightful commentary. At the same time, I do not think that the internet needs a publicly accessible permanent record of the things that I find funny, so I delete these items from my timeline after the “likes” stop. While I largely refrain these days from posting very much serious material beyond my own writings, I also delete such posts after just a few days, and for similar reasons.
2. Family/child pictures especially do not remain up for very long. My departure from social media was motivated in part for the desire for privacy for my then-infant son, who we had recently adopted. His privacy remains a primary concern of mine, but one that I balance against the legitimate desires of family and (actual) friends to keep up with the goings on in his life. Being especially diligent to remove posts about him not very long after posting lessens the possibility of embarrassing baby pictures showing up on the internet as he gets older. Additionally, we have a hidden Facebook group for family members where we share pictures and other updates that for whatever reason need to remain more private.
3. Professional activities are relegated primarily to separate pages. I maintain separate Facebook pages for both my low brass studio activities at Ole Miss, and even for this blog, which occupies an interesting sphere where my personal and professional interests intersect. Posts on those pages are limited to those relevant to those activities, are publicly accessible (in the case of the studio page, largely for marketing and outreach purposes), and remain up indefinitely. I sometimes share these posts to my personal timeline to generate additional attention, but later delete them following the broad guidelines above.
4. I try to avoid highly controversial postings, as well as arguing with “anonymous internet people.” Some of you might remember that a number of years ago I made a habit of sharing many serious articles that I found interesting, and engaging in greater or lesser amounts of discussion about them. Besides these posts undoubtedly leading to a lot of “unfollows,” there is usually little edification to be found in online arguments, so I now prefer to use my time otherwise. Contrary to the expectations of many in polite society, I actually enjoy serious discussions of politics and religion, but in person, and in a civil manner. I go to Facebook to look at memes.
5. My privacy settings for most posts are “friends only,” and I avoid platforms that do not allow that control. I am beginning to realize that some of the most interesting social media discussions are actually on Twitter these days, but I don’t find its free-for-all nature to suit me, nor do I think I can express myself in 140 characters. The ability to make the vast majority of my Facebook posts visible to “friends” only is greatly appealing to me. I am beginning to make use of my LinkedIn account a bit more, where there is some possibility of control similar to Facebook, and with a more professional ethos generally. I have an Instagram account, but have never posted anything on it and have only logged in once or twice to look at posts from others.
I suppose that’s a lot of words to say that “I delete most of my posts after a week or so.” Still, I think this can be an effective approach to balancing the desire for connection with others with concerns for privacy. I am not naïve about this—I am quite sure that even the posts that I delete are saved indefinitely somewhere in the bowels of Facebook, but that is different than having a complete, publicly accessible archive of my pictures, jokes, and comments. Mine is not a perfect system for navigating these sometimes opposing desires, but I am pleased with it thus far. If you are interested in trying it but are afraid that deleting old posts will take a long time, I have little reassurance for you—it does take a long time, but only initially. Once the initial “curating” work is done all it takes is removing a post or two every day or so.