My Blog Journal


A Question of Ethics: How Much Do We Share Online?

Digital Painting of Phantom Cat by TaraFly

We dance delicately in this transparent masquerade.

Since it’s 3:00AM, and I haven’t gone to bed yet… I thought it might be an excellent time to draft a blog about a serious topic.
Which may or may not get published later today when I wake up.

So many of my drafts never make it.

We, bloggers, are faced with a difficult decision every time we sit down to type.
The decision to share or not to share. And it’s a doozy.

Many of the blogs I love to read involve sharing glimpses into someone’s personal space:

how they decorate their homes, how they manage their time, how they run successful (fill-in-the-blanks), and even how they cooked dinner last night.

If they share the recipe, even better!

Some blogs go a few giant steps further by sharing too much information… but perhaps topics which seem unnecessarily sensitive to me are precisely what someone else needs to hear.

Whenever I consider sharing something deeply personal, I always ask myself whether anyone might benefit from reading it.

And then I ask myself whether anyone might get hurt by reading it.

Because we are not blogging into a vacuum, our words being sucked into cyber oblivion… even though it may feel that way at times. Especially when staring at numbers on a Dashboard.

Someday… somewhere…. someone will read our words.
What impact will it have on them?

Freedom of Speech may grant us the unalienable Right to say certain things, but does that mean we should say them?
It’s an ethical question, without an easy answer.

This post was inspired by a blog I’ve been following, written by a jilted ex-wife who has been recounting every painful experience of her divorce, along with her husband’s rebound marriage to his lover…
You can well imagine all the lovely fodder that goes along with that sort of drama, sprinkled with a heaping tablespoon of custody and parallel-parenting issues.

Although she never mentioned the ex or his new wife by name… various innocuous clues she has scattered across her posts could lead any curious (or bored) web surfer off on a merry adventure to find these abominable sinners.
I was curious and bored one evening, and found them quite easily using a combination of People Finder, Classmates Alumni, and a few other search results…

I had more than enough information about the parties than I cared to know. Thanks Google.

Now, granted, you know I’m not a malicious sort of person who would stalk and harass complete strangers to show my loyalty to a blogger (who is also a stranger to me). Nor do I blindly accept every accusation made against them…
Having dined at both ends of the table in my own relationships, I can assure you, the truth usually takes a seat somewhere in the middle.

Apparently other readers lack the courtesy I take for granted, and have left nasty online messages for the couple.
A form of cyber bullying – from adults, no less! Juvenile behaviour which prompted the couple to take the blog authoress to court, asking that she “cease and desist” from writing about them, and thus provoking her readership.
And apparently the judge denied their request.

The defense maintains that her blog is “helping” women to cope with the aftermath of messy divorce, by sharing terrible personal experiences and their outcomes, and serving as a model for wives wanting to reclaim control and reinvent themselves.

My blog, too, has become a personal reinvention project; an online journal where I can sort through my feelings, and reach out to sympathetic individuals who might be facing similar circumstances.
Perhaps one reader has already fought a battle I’m currently engaged in, and they’re willing to impart some of their hard-won knowledge…
And perhaps I’ve learned a couple of things worth passing along as well.

I’ve sat here at this desk many, many times… questioning whether or not to spill juicy bits.

And most of the time, I don’t spill. Sorry guys!

And here is why: most of these experiences involve not only me, but family, friends, co-workers, exes… a whole cast of characters, in fact… none of whom auditioned for a starring role in my made-for-internet soap-blog-drama.

I may joke about the ex who dumped me because the Hale-Bopp comet was interfering with his brain… or sigh with relief over the breakup with the obsessive man who texted me 156 times per day, and demanded I answer each text.

But did I give you all the dirty details? Do you really know anything about these people?

Nope. And I plan to keep it that way.
For their sakes, as well as for mine.

Once upon a time, only celebrities needed to worry about their private lives being exposed.

Normal people didn’t have an audience willing to devour the embarrassing published photos from paparazzi, the sordid memoirs of ex-lovers, and the unauthorized biographies of their estranged family.

We didn’t need a PR representative to maintain our “image” for us, working tirelessly to put out every fire, tracking down credible sources to refute the allegations.

But unfortunately, the internet has created a new breed of celebrity… and not the media attention-seeking teens like Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black.

Normal people are becoming famous simply by sharing too much information, and everyone associated with them will be dragged along for the ride, kicking and screaming in protest.

Mr. Comet Man could potentially become something beyond his control, a symbol of a man whose brain is easily manipulated by extraterrestrial influences.
And I’m sure he would thank me for that bit of disclosure. ;)

There are certain sensitive topics, especially pertaining to my childhood, which I’ve hesitated to lay bare… even though my stories may speak to someone, because they also have the potential to inflict a great deal of pain and embarrassment on people who aren’t prepared to handle the repercussions.

A couple of these people are no longer with us, and therefore unable to give their testimony.

One non-life-changing example involved a post concerning my mother’s aversion to owning pets.
My description of her attitude towards caregiving, which I feel is accurate (at least in my eyes), landed me in serious hot water!
She had never visited my website or read my blog until that moment… Coincidence or karma?

The issue I have with many bloggers is their total lack of consideration for the feelings of others, as I struggle each day with being considerate myself.

Balancing precariously on a very thin tightrope, taking one cautious step at a time… to avoid falling into the “Tell All” temptation which may feel like liberation for a few seconds, but in reality is a free-fall to the ground without a safety net.

In the case of this jilted wife – she and her ex have children… and all this mud-slinging and negativity will not help them develop a meaningful relationship with their father (who shares custody).

Whether her accusations are true or not…. Whether she is within her Rights to speak freely or not…
Publically disrespecting and humiliating the man who is actively helping to raise her children is the equivalent of a mortal sin under the Commandments of Divorce.
(I have cement copies of these stone tablets serving as bedroom nightstands, so I know they exist).

And the poor kids caught in the middle of this verbal assault will be the ones who ultimately suffer.
I know this also, sadly, as a fact…

I can hit the “fast forward” button 20 years and predict their futures… the emotional barriers, the jaded attitudes, the broken bonds of trust…

I’ve walked barefoot in their shoes for a long, long time…

Before reality TV created stars who were famous simply for being famous.

Before our neighbors were filming YouTube music videos and auditioning for American Idol.

Before divorced parents had blogs, and the internet.

We still had our words…
and words can hurt.

To share or not to share.

A question of ethics.


  •    Reply

    Hi Tara, I just wanted to comment when I noticed this blog post had made it to the blog of one of the parties you reference in your post. Forgive me for saying, but it seems hypocritical to say back off and then jump right into the middle of the foray by allowing your post to be added to one of the two dueling blogs. I am admittedly a blog stalker in this case, somewhat out of morbid curiosity and somewhat out of concern for a long time friend and innocent children (ok…mostly morbid curiosity ;-)).

    At the same time, I am a step-parent and a long time step-child. My parents divorced when I was a baby still in diapers. I have had step-parents in my life since I was three years old and never once have my step-parents treated my biological parents with anything but respect as the biological parent. My step-parents never referred to me as “their” child, never neglected to consult with the biological parent before taking significant action in my life, and essentially did everything they could to assure that my biological parents never felt as if their parental rights and preferences were being ignored. As a direct result, my biological parents have treated my step-parents with respect and even consulted with them on matters regarding raising my sister and me into productive adults.

    My bottom line is that respect in blended families is a two way street. Respectful blogging is also a two way street. Your blog clearly references the blog of the jilted ex-wife and is now posted on the blog of the new wife. I am curious…does allowing/encouraging this post to be re-posted on the blog of one of the parties you refer to in the post really stand up to your question of ethical blogging practices?

    As a side note, I do not post nor ever plan to post comments to the other blog where this blog post appears.

    •    Reply

      Hi Heidi, thanks for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. I really appreciate the reality check.

      A few weeks ago, I visited the new wife’s blog (out of curiosity) and felt compelled to comment on a couple posts, because I strongly felt that respect wasn’t being given to the ex-wife.

      I tried to get the message across, through sharing personal experiences in a non-threatening way, that the bond children share with their biological parents are sacred and should be handled delicately.
      Step-parents should never over-step the line and try to become a replacement for a biological parent, especially if the biological parents are still actively involved with raising their children.

      Unfortunately my own childhood experience was nothing like yours, with two parents waging a bitter emotional war following their divorce… as a young impressionable child, I was caught in the middle, sometimes intentionally, struggling with divided loyalty and questioning the respect entitled to them.

      It always hurts me to see parents fighting openly, throwing insults and accusations back and forth, when an innocent child is standing there absorbing every word…
      One wonders whether they think about 10 years from now, when that same child wants to develop a relationship with their parents, but find their perception has hardened over the years and has driven an emotional wedge between them:
      “Daddy doesn’t love us, because he was a raging drunk who left us alone each night…”
      “And Mom is a worthless floozy who wants to get her kicks from partying and hooking up with strange men in bars….”

      Beyond their inner demons and past transgressions, are still two people who love their children more than anything in the world. Human beings are fallible…

      That being said, when I wrote this post last Thursday, I had no intentions of it going beyond this site… and the few followers here who usually forgive my brief personal rants.
      I have never set myself up to become a spokesperson for any cause… that would be foolish, as I’m prone to making dumb decisions. ;)

      However, when the new wife found my blog post via Twitter… (she ironically follows me on Twitter, I suppose, because I was kind enough to comment on her blog without attacking her…)
      …When she saw the automatic notification that my blog had been updated, having never read my writings before, she decided to step forward and ask whether she could repost it.

      Whether you believe me or not, and it doesn’t matter much now… it wasn’t an easy decisioin. My first initial reaction was to say, “Heck no! The last thing I need is your drama blowing in my direction…”
      But I refrained from an outright rejection, trying to decide how to word things politely and respectfully.

      As the day wore on, and I mulled it over, I made the decision to let her run with it. It wasn’t to gain publicity for myself (heh, some publicity that would be) and it certainly wasn’t to anger all the ex-wife’s loyal followers… although I worried some of them might come looking for me.

      I guess what really influenced my decision to relinquish my post was that I knew it needed to be heard by the people this mess is affecting. I’ve never been an active protester, willing to put myself front and center as a human shield…. so this is all completely new territory for me.

      Although I suppose in hindsight it came across as overly negative towards the ex in particular, it wasn’t my intention to focus solely on her… but on the entire situation, which is a vicious game being played by both sides. And honestly, it was only used as an example for a much bigger problem we have online… that of cyber-bullying, and sharing details of our personal lives that might hurt those closest to us.

      Although I do think it’s time for them to surrender the fight and try to work on building some sort of bridge where they can co-exist peacefully.

      Okay, maybe not hugging nude and singing songs about rainbows…. but agreeing to surrender the bitter feud and work on a truce. Heck, if Russia and the US can make steps towards peace and propose to be allies, these two surely can, right?

      Anyway, I apologize for what now seems like a very hyprocritical post, you are absolutely right. I just hope that perhaps someone out there who needs to hear this message, takes some piece of it to heart, and pauses a moment before they post something that might cause more pain.
      I need to re-learn this lesson a few times, myself.

      •    Reply

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply to my comment, Tara. I know I am extremely fortunate in the relationship all of my parents have with one another and I am always sorry when others do not have what I did…four loving, considerate, and respectful parents. I have learned a lot from growing up in that situation and hope I am doing as good of job as I can with my own step-children. By the way, I do not see eye-to-eye with their bio-mom’s choices much of the time, but all situations are handled with respect and I do make an effort to like her as a person even if I disagree with her parenting choices.

        Wow, on the sharing of your post all over the place without contacting you first. My facebook FRIENDS don’t repost anything of mine without asking first…key word there being friends, as in people I know and have or have had some kind of relationship with. Good luck…I am pretty sure you have a new BFF. LOL :-)

        PS. I love cats and art. ;-)

        •    Reply

          Hi Heidi,

          When my daughter’s father and I divorced, we both recognized that however we might feel about each other (personally)… we needed to keep a united front for her sake.
          Despite our relationship issues, we are both determined to be great parents… and the fact that I dealt with so much drama from my own childhood, made me even more focused on “playing nice” and being respectful towards her Dad.
          I refuse to allow her to grow up with parents who hate each other and undermine each other’s efforts. It simply isn’t fair.

          That was the essence I tried to get across on the new wife’s blog… without referencing the Other blog. hehe

          I told her that co-parenting could definitely work, it just needed everyone to sheath their claws and work on respecting each other. And that step-parents need to let their biological counterparts control the reins, and not try to take over. ;)

          And yeah, I was sorta creeped out when someone contacted me, claiming he received my post in his e-mail. I figured “What more harm could it do? She’s already shared the link with everyone…”
          But you were right, it just backfired and made me look hypocritical.

          I’ve swallowed a bitter pill and now I’ll be extra cautious about mentioning anyone… even remotely.
          Fortunately my cats don’t mind if I blog about them! ;)

    •    Reply

      Oh, I forgot to mention something rather disturbing before submitting my reply… lol

      Before this person contacted me about re-posting my article on her site… Google informed me that she had already shared it on her Facebook wall, re-tweeted it to all her followers, and even e-mailed it to some people.
      I received a response from a man who claimed my blog was forwarded to him in an e-mail. (He didn’t reply to me here….)

      So, basically, before I even knew that anyone outside my regular readership was privy to this… she was already spreading my words all over the place.
      Like I alluded to in my post: words have a way of coming back to haunt you.

      I basically felt that the re-posting issue was a moot point. I could’ve held firm and said “No” … however, so you were right to question my decision to give in. :P

  •    Reply

    Yeah, the anonymous internet is over. the only way to be “not” social online is to be a lurker, reader or even buyer. With that said even shopping is becoming a social event. Just look at Etsy and how it’s evolving into a social shopping site.

  •    Reply

    PS – you need a subscribe to comments plugin. You were actually the one who got me to search one out for my blog.

    This is the one I use…

    •    Reply

      Thanks Jess! I just uploaded the plug-in to my site. *blush*
      I know it’s one of my biggest pet-peeves when visiting other websites, but I never considered my own… I guess because I do get notified of comments, as the admin. LOL

  •    Reply

    Tara, I grapple with this daily. I’ve come to the conclusion that a blog is simply a creative form of expression and while it may be based on real life events or experiences, the blogger (author) can and does take creative license with these events in how she or he remembers them.

    Think of this way… when you and your friends go to a movie or read the same novel what you remember and what your friends remember of the book or movie are more often than not, different.

    Over the last few years especially over the last few years I’ve had people forbid me to write about them and people demand me to write about them if I’d spent some time with them in real life.

    This makes my real life very challenging and I tend to hold my privacy offline highly because of it. While people may think I share a great deal and talk about personal experiences in depth on my blog, it doesn’t even begin to touch the tip of the iceberg as to what’s hidden inside my drawings.

    On a side note I do share my blog openly with business contacts etc. I only close the door on mainly men who are romantically interested in me as sharing my blog too fast with men in the past has caused me a great deal of problems. So, I keep it secret to level the playing field until I know them better.

    My privacy is important in my personal life. And I can’t count how many people especially men in real life think how well they know me after reading my blog. And this is perhaps why I’m single. I’ve stopped sharing my blog with people in real life unless it’s business related or they stumble onto me somehow via Facebook. I rarely add people to my personal facebook anymore and forward people to my Fanpage instead now.

    Share your deepest secrets in your art Tara.

    Love you!

    •    Reply

      Oh wow, Jess, it’s wild that people would demand that you blog about them! I can definitely understand not wanting to be blogged about… but if I had to force someone to write about me, it might not be a very favorable post, eh? ;)

      It’s true there are things I share after a long debate with myself, which may lead others to think I share everything… but that is far from true. In fact, I’m still waiting for certain posts to come back to haunt me, once the mentioned parties realize they’ve been…ummm… mentioned. Knowing I’ve already said “too much” in some cases, has left me extra cautious.
      Because our blogs are directly linked to our websites, where customers and friends alike will congregate… it’s akin to Facebook in some sense; we need to think before we post: Everyone has the potential to read these words. Am I willing to defend my postition? And accept the consequences if people get hurt?

      You also bring up a great point about dating people who have blogs. I know you never spill the beans about guys you’ve been seeing… even though we’ve begged! ;)
      I didn’t start blogging until after I’d left the dating scene, but I can definitely see where baring your soul on a blog would leave you vulnerable in the real world. Perhaps that is one reason (among many) why famous people prefer to date other famous people… because their lives are already public. As you said – a level playing field.

      And as a curious side note, Joe refuses to read or subscribe to my blog… some sort of privacy line he wouldn’t cross, although nothing I post online is private. I think he believes that blogs should focus on informative topics, like tutorials or DIY ideas… not to be used as a personal diary. I think the “social” spin of internet relations today is beginning to creep him out… and he hasn’t logged into Facebook in months. When the World Wide Web first became accessible, it was all about sharing information to educate people. That’s the internet he mourns over. He’s still active online, but not very “social”. LOL

      Paint my deepest secrets, huh? That would definitely be an interesting experiment. hehe ;)
      Thank you for all the nuggets of wisdom… I have much to mull over now.

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