Self Censorship Online

Gary Walter asks about self censorship — do we trade off authenticity for safety?

I gave my opinion in his comments, but because it ended up being so long, I’m reposting here (with minor modifications):

Gary, we all self-censor. People ask us for an opinion about clothing or hair style and want affirmation. They don’t want to hear that it makes them look fat or old. So we don’t tell them. We say it makes them great or young or vibrant or whatever. We? re protecting their feelings and letting them know they’re loved.

Other times we self-censor because we don’t want to admit that we’re not perfect, that we’re still figuring things out, or that we hold opinions or do things that others might consider unacceptable. This self-censorship is not about protecting others, it’s about protecting ourselves. It’s more insidious because we still justify that we’re protecting others from the conflict that might occur. But we’re just fooling ourselves.

Does that make it wrong to self-censor? I don’t think so. I don’t have to bare every thought or impulse or action just because I have a blog and a twitter account. Part of this journey we call life is learning how and when to disclose to others, who we can and should trust.

I’m not “authentic” enough to tweet that my wife and I had a fight on the way to church and then paste on smiles to shake hands and say “fine” when asked how I am. Maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with church. We need to be more open and honest about our true condition. Yet it’s hard. Those who volunteer at church, even playing the piano, are expected to meet certain standards (at least in some eyes) and is authenticity really the battle we want to fight? I’m not there yet and may never be. I rationalize that this problem is as much with the church as with myself, but am only half convinced.

With social networking, authenticity is even more difficult, or maybe it’s easier. Most of us have never met you, yet feel like we know you from your blog posts and tweets. We come to this relationship with no expectations other than that you entertain us or make us think once in a while. It’s working.

It’s when the “in real life” and “virtual” lives cross paths that difficulties arise. Those in real life don’t understand how or why we bare our lives online. It rocks their paradigm in ways they don’t understand. How dare you admit that or hang out with those people or do that?

It’s a personal decision. What do you get from online sharing? Is it a self-discovery process that could just as well be done with a private diary? Is it an ego trip where you fool yourself into thinking that the world is interested when you get your drink and piece of free fruit from the cafeteria? Or is it a way of making friends in a new world and you’d no more censor yourself with us than you would with your friends in real life? After all, why would we be authentic with you if you’re not willing to do so with us?

Maybe the real question is why would you be willing to share something online that you wouldn’t share in person?

Questions only you can answer. Good luck! And I’m looking forward to reading your answers online. ;-)

What do you think? What are you not willing to share online and why not?

Update. Check out the comments on Gary’s post. Gary responds to my comment and at least a couple of others.

3 responses to “Self Censorship Online”

  1. [Charlene] Avatar

    I have really struggled with online transparency, so I understand where you are coming from. I started blogging in 1995, and in the late 90s, I lost two clients in a short period of time because of something I blogged. It raised an awareness in me, and reinforced my natural inclination to self censor. Now that I’m out in the social media world, I have flashback nightmares to that time. But for the most part, I have been authentic, sometimes too authentic I see in hindsight. I’m sure there is a balance and that I will find it.

    One step of protection I’ve taken is that my Twitter account doesn’t identify me by name or my company. That way, I feel free to be myself and not worry about clients or potential clients linking comments they find offensive back to me. I’m seriously considering knocking down that firewall, and am working with my inner censor to make that change and feel good about it.

    It’s not that I rant on Twitter about politics or religion (traditionally polarizing topics), or that I’m making cracks about my clients that would embarrass me. I have nothing in my Twitter timeline to hide. However, I feel I’ve been very free about my inner world, and I usually have a strong wall between personal relationships and business relationships. The social media world is dissolving my old understandings, and I’m not sure I have good ones to replace them yet.

    One thing I’ve found challenging about online communication is that after being so open with people online, I have found myself suddenly feeling self-conscious when participating in a Twitter meetup later. It’s an odd feeling to have shared something relatively personal with people online and then see them face to face. There is a false sense of intimacy from online communication that isn’t true in the real world relationship, and I bristle a bit every time I feel it.

    Your comment about your relationship and your church brings up another angle in my mind. I don’t usually share information with others about where I really am in the relationship out of respect for the relationship. It’s no one else’s business. But I do relate to feeling like no one wants me to be that honest, and that I must put on a face because I’m expected to wear that face within a group. I really strive to toss aside all of the expected masks others try to put on me. It makes me less popular, for sure, but I can live with that because I can live with my honesty. I strive to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of gal. Sometimes, it works against me, but overall, I feel better and I can live with the problems it causes me.

    Thanks for posting such an honest and thought-provoking entry.

  2. Donkey Avatar

    Random communication or self-expression in the form of a blog or twitter is that, self-expression and it is public. Your boss, your clients, your “main squeeze”, even your mother might read it.

    Is being transparent noble?

    You would let others at church know you fought on the way to church for what purpose? To embarrass – your family, yourself, the listener? To entertain the listener? To appear more pious than the listener because you are transparent? Where do you draw the line?

    I don’t want total transparency online or even in person.

    Most individuals have flaws, why should they be shared with the world? On-line therapy?

    Self-censoring is a good thing in person and online.

    For example, I don’t want to know that you – whatever your age – saw my daughter in class and think she is “hot” or “sick” or whatever. Don’t tweet about it. Censor yourself.

  3. Brent Logan Avatar

    Donkey, that’s an ironic thought that one might appear more pious by admitting to faults.

    Dennis Prager has said, “The only happy people I know are those I don’t know well.” By censoring all our faults, we can make people feel isolated, as though they’re the only ones with problems.

    Conversely, if we all talk about our immoral behavior, maybe we make it seem normal and acceptable. Appropriateness of time, place, and person we talk to would seem to be important for certain admissions.

    I don’t have all the answers. I may not even have good questions.

    Thanks for the comments, Donkey and Charlene.