Thursday, January 25, 2007

Web of Lies

by Kristine Coblitz

As writers, we are constantly looking for ways to get our names out there and attract readers. We create websites, blogs and Myspace pages. (I have all three.)

There was an article recently published in Writer's Digest warning writers to be cautious about what they write and publish online. Some recent cases have proved it's easy to offend and make a negative impression of yourself based on what you write and who may be reading what you are writing. This also goes for e-mail.

When I started my personal blog, I mainly did so as a journal and as a way to make myself accountable for writing something on a regular basis. I also did it for my family and friends to keep up on my progress so I wouldn't have to answer the dreaded questions (Is your book done yet?) at family functions. I was shocked when I discovered that not only are my family and friends indeed reading my posts but also that my blog has gained attention from others on the web locally and internationally. Yikes!

As a result, I've become very careful about what I post online. Not too much personal information. I include nothing I wouldn't want complete strangers to know about me, and I'm not just talking about the color of my underwear. I've also tried to add valuable content to my posts and stay away from the mundane details of how I spend my day. I mean, who really cares what kind of tea I like to drink or what I had for breakfast? (If you MUST know, I drink wild sweet orange tea and eat Special K cereal. As for the color of my underwear...that's top secret.)

Evidence of the power of the Internet came this week in an article about a 22-year-old man who was shot to death by a co-worker due to jealousy over an Internet relationship both men were having with an 18-year-old woman. The twist? The 18-year-old woman was really a mother in her forties who was using her daughter's name to attract men over the Internet. The mother went so far as to send pictures of her daughter and sexually suggestive gifts to one of the men. The man's wife intercepted the packages, and can imagine what happened next. You can read the whole article HERE.

Personally, I enjoy making connections with people over the Internet and think the information superway is a wonderful way to meet new friends and fellow readers. We need to tread carefully, however. When we publish anything (either in print or online), we expose ourselves to the world by what we write.

How much do you want the public to know about you? Are you comfortable with what information about you is currently online?


Joan Swan said...

Great post, Kristine. Something we all should remember. And interestingly enough, the subject of another blog at Murder She Writes. A very scary story.

Just as we don't put our kids' names (the little ones, anyway) on their lunch pale and the back of their jackets so strangers won't have the information, we should guard our private lives as well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by, Joan!

I'm glad this topic is making its way through the Internet. The more people spreading the word, the better.

Joyce said...

Joan, I read that post on Murder She Writes. It is very scary.

I don't want anyone knowing too much about me. I have very little personal info on my blog or website, and I don't have a photo. I'm not sure I want anyone knowing what I look like.

It's surprisingly easy to find just about anything you want on just about anyone. Did you ever Google your phone number? Someone can not only get your name and address, but a map to your house. Fortunately it doesn't work with cell phone numbers (yet).

Annette said...

Joyce, the phone number and map thing freaks me out. I keep opting out of those "services" but every other day a new one crops up and I have to go in and have them remove my information. I know it's a losing battle, but I keep trying.

Nancy said...

Funny thing is, the more mundane the info is on your blog, the less likely people are to read it. We've been pushing the limits at TLC, and it's paid off in terms of hits and book sales. The personal stuff is also what binds our TLC readers into a community---which was our mission when we created the blog. That article you linked to, Kristine, takes us to task for revealing too much. And yet---the person who posted that opinion continues to come back to us to read what w're talking about! So the trade-off is . . . interesting. As a writer, how much of yourself are you willing to reveal? In your fiction as well as your blog? Tough choices.

Cathy said...

Great title. Sharing about myself is not my strong point. I guess I fear critical comments aimed back at me (like at the 2005 Pennwriters Conference). This blog has helped me to open up, but the point you make is valid about being careful about information shared.

Thanks for the info, Kristine. Did I ever tell you about the time I met a friend only to find out he was a dwarf?

Anonymous said...

Nancy, I agree it's important to put enough personal stuff out there so readers can feel a connection with you. The danger comes, I think, when it crosses the line from entertainment to putting yourself in danger.

Cathy, you've got to tell me the dwarf story sometime.

Tory said...

Very interesting questions, Kristine. I've always been a bit skeptical about the internet and how easy it is to create a fantasy about yourself that has nothing to do with reality.

I have to say, however, the past few months have opened me up more to this type of communication. I feel I've gotten to know all my fellow bloggers a lot better through their writings.

I do think it's important to remember that the internet is a public forum. Here's my rule: if I wouldn't want my boss to see it, I shouldn't be writing it in my blog (or comments.)

Judith said...

Kristine: That story seriously creeped me out!!!! I write alot about my personal life and so far haven't attracted any stalkers .... but Pittsburgh Magazine isn't exactly the stalker kind of venue. I'm taking my phone numbers off my email right now.

Joyce said...

Cathy, the dwarf story has got to be your next blog!