Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Privacy Policy....

Julie asks an interesting question this week and it is timely for me.

She asks: How do you handle writing about people? What are your criteria for discussing the people who affect you? Have you ever dealt with someone finding themselves in your writing and reacting (in any way)? Share with us your ethics and mores as a writer, when it comes to characterizing others.

Last week, my host and I had an interesting discussion about blogs. My blog in particular. He is not especially supportive of this site. It's not so much about my content as it is his own feelings about people putting their personal business out all over the Internet. He asked me to not write about him, his family or our relationship. Needless to say, because I respect him and value his approval, I will not discuss him on this site. It's a temptation of course but it would be unethical and disrespectful for me to disregard his request.

That would be Rule Number One: Do not write about people who have specifically said they do not want to be written about.

The ethics of writing about the people in our lives, like everything else, doesn't have a steadfast rule that will apply in all situations. There are a few general rules but after that, it's just a question of personal boundaries.

My Other Absolutes:

2) I will not write about anyone in a way that will directly identify them. I will not include names, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses unless I am asked to do so. An example would be choosing to write about someone who is campaigning for something I support or someone who explicitly or implicitly gives permission to be linked here.

Some time back, I wrote about a person in my life who has been troublesome. I talked openly about my feelings about her and my experience of her. Even though I was very angry, her identity was cloaked.

On the other hand, Julie gives implied permission to be linked here because she runs the Roundtable forum.

3) I will always stick to my perspectives, my experiences and my feelings. It is not my right to take someone else's inventory in this space.

It is not okay for me to use this site as a way to denigrate someone else and expose all of his or her character flaws, his or her background or his or her private business. No gossiping.

4) I will not write something here for the express purpose of embarrassing, humiliating or hurting someone.

Again, returning to the person in #1, I was tempted to identify this person because she is an Internet troll. In some ways, it would have been a service to others because she is still out there, possibly looking for other people to exploit. That is a very hard line to draw. At what point do we expose someone because their behavior may prove harmful to someone else? I grappled with that.

I decided that in this case, I would have been doing it only for revenge and to humiliate her, not for some higher purpose ~ so I didn't identify her. There are websites that are designed to expose trolls. I will leave it up to those folks.

5) I will always give the people I do write about fake names and protect them as best I can while still being true to my own experience and my authenticity as a writer.

Those are five rules I use here. In general, the old "treat you the way I'd want to be treated" works fairly well. I'm not a masochist so that old refrain doesn't work. Actually, I squeal rather loudly when my toes are stepped on.

I have not had any negative reactions from others I've written about so far, although I'm sure the troll would not be pleased. :)

What are your rules?



Liv said...

well, i embrace what you are saying when it comes to privacy, but i also believe firmly in giving credit where it is due. privacy is one thing, but i think when we use the creative arts we should always properly credit the artist whether it is the person whose music or photos we display.

was that too random?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

One of my family members has asked that I never mention him or her by name in my blog, and of course I respect that.

I may at times vent, but I don't gossip, and I also do not choose to waste my energy in humiliating anyone. I may delete their comments if my negative feelings are strong enough, but denigrating them in my space would be like stalking them.

Have you considered reporting your troll to one of the websites that exists to expose such people?

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh yes, absolutely. I feel the same way. There are times I am tempted to lash out, but I really try to curb that. I won't say I've never criticized anybody on my blog, because I have. But I don't like gossip and gratuitous meanness either. There's enough of that on the internet already without me adding to it.

I happen to have a WEALTH of experience with trolls (I won't go into details, but that is not an exaggeration, at all) and though it might make you feel somewhat powerless, the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore them. They feed on the attention. They get a thrill out of knowing they got to you. Don't enable them and they will go away, eventually.

Some trolls are more persistent than others, but they all have that pathologic need to be recognized and to feel powerful. Take it away and they are like addicts suffering withdrawal. They will seek elsewhere.

Amy Y said...

I don't have many privacy rules, I suppose. My full name and my family's names are all out in the open. If someone really wanted to find us, they could. But outside my family, I use first names or initials to protect privacy, but that is about it.

I am glad to not have had to deal with a troll and while I respect what you did not exposing him/her, I don't know that I would have taken that higher road. So thank you for being a good example. :)

niobe said...

When I write about people I know, I tend to fictionalize them a bit so they're not clearly recognizable. Of course, I don't use real names, but I also usually change the underlying facts or combine two people into one or switch the person from male to female or vice versa.

Janet said...

I try not to write about friends or family without their permission. If I do mention them, I don't use their names.

I'm currently struggling with my children's privacy. I use their first names, but I don't supply our last name or where we live. However, now that my older two kids are getting, well, older I'm wondering how much it's fair to write about them. Or post pictures of them. I want to respect their privacy. So I don't know what is going to happen there.

Anonymous said...

Very good points. I've not had to deal directly with trolls, and I'm glad that you lived through it relatively unscathed. I don't expressly ask for permission to blog about them, but I do try to maintain privacy and use the golden rule as you do.

Angela said...

I basically follow the same rules, Chani. Although I do think when someone comments on a blog in a deragatory manner, they sort of open themselves up to being exposed. I sure as heck wouldn't worry about outing a troll, but with other people in my life I am very, very careful about how I proceed to write about them.

Jen said...

I would say that I follow the same rules, in general.

Mariposa said...

I agree with you!

As for me, I write through my own fiction. Sometimes, it is easier to get to the truth by not claiming that you are speaking it...and there are some things that can be said in fiction that can never be said in memoir (I consider my blog THAT). LOL

le35 said...

One thing that I like about this post was that you struggled with whether or not to do something to help someone. You decided not to because it would have been to get back at someone and not to protect. I think that often, it's the intent that shines brilliantly through in our posts. If we are trying to protect someone, we say things in a completely different way (and generally people tend to get offended by this type of post my less often.) but when we say something with an intent to hurt another person, even with the guise of protecting others, the hatred shines through as well.

molly said...

Good guidelines....

Christine said...

right now i don't have any specific ones except to try and respect everyone i write about. in fact i have a post up right now about a person that might hurt them if they ever found it so i am going to take it down in a day or two.

i also don't talk about my husband's work.

crazymumma said...

Nothing too intimate about my daughters. I have to not blog negatively about my inlaws because they found my blog.

And I try and be respectful, even if I swear like a trucker, just respectful, tho my current post does not reflect that philosophy.

Anonymous said...

You have a set of good rules here..

QT said...

I like these rules, Chani. Since my blog is about my life, it is all fair game. I take pains to not identify people by name, and not to be TOO snarky.

I have had a few rounds with the trolls - I just don't understand who has that kind of time on their hands?

hele said...

I try never to vent about someone because I never know who might read it.

I also never discuss issues that I would not mind being public knowledge.

Julie Pippert said...

I think your five guidelines are wise and thoughtful.

I paused to consider your Thai host's pov.

I respect that pov, but think it is a personal decision. My husband would never have a personal blog. He is exceedingly private. But I think it can--and does---do a lot of good for other types of people.

I find that you share interesting concepts, illustrated by personal stories, which is a practice thousands of years old.

That's quite a distinction, in my mind, from people simply being showcases.


Sarah said...

I think my rules are very similar to your own, except that I think it's such a slippery slope when one chooses to write about one's own children.

They can't exactly give consent. I try (so hard) to respect their privacy but still convey the essence of them, but it's tough, really tough.

Only time will tell, I suppose.