Invasion of my public privacy

Today I thought we’d talk about privacy and how Twitter messages and status updates affects that in a manner you probably haven’t thought of.

Being aware

I use Twitter to write short messages about what I do, and then my status in Facebook automatically gets updated from that. From an integrity perspective I am very well aware of the fact that anyone can read it, and make sure to refrain from writing something too personal and definitely not anything that would out someone else in any way.

My public privacy

But what happens when you want to write something and share it with the world and get lots of fun feedback, but you don’t want certain people closer to you read it? We’re not talking about secrets here, but something that would just make me feel awkward and a bit out of place.

There are things that are ok to share with the “world”, especially those you only know a little, but it’s embarrassing if someone you see every day reads it. Like, some things feel good in a public context, but is way too sensitive in a private one.

My problem

My problem is that my mother-in-law has become a friend of mine on Facebook. All fine and well and there’s nothing on there that she can’t get to know. However, it does hold me back from writing certain status updates that it would feel really weird she were to read it.

For instance, If I wanted to write:

How come one’s anus is an erogenous zone? It has to be against nature somehow…

I can’t really do that. Because if I would, the next dinner at their house would definitely feel, eh, different…

But at the same time, I’d love to write it to get some good comments and perhaps a laugh or two.

So, my friends, how does one handle an invasion of one’s public privacy?


  • nyamsprod says:

    One solution would be to create a real public twitter account but then again you might end up with a bunch of different accounts according to your public privacy settings… So I don't see a simple solution to that… other than to restrein yourself to address a legitimate question about anus erogenosity so to speak πŸ˜€

  • DarkJedi613 says:

    This is an issue I've run into a bit also. I've turned to using the Facebook privacy features so certain friends/groups cannot see your status updates is one possibility. Good article on that: 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know.

    Although you don't really want to block ALL status updates I'm guessing: personally I wish the Twitter Facebook App had some sort of filtering built into it (via a blacklist or tags or something). Also would be great to filter out @ replies.

  • Logan says:

    You can use the "Selective Twitter" facebook application instead of the default one, just enter selective twitter in the search bar on facebook, its icon is a little orange rss looking wave thingy (very technical, I know). Or, as was said before, multiple twitter accounts.


  • Stop using Facebook? I did, feels fine πŸ™‚

  • One simple way to cut it off is to disable the twitter app in FaceBook. It's actually quite stupid to put it there in the first place: FaceBook is for kepping contacts with the guys you already know, and twitter is about getting social with pretty much anybody. Two different forums.

    (I use facebook twitter app too … >.<)

    I have a controlled public privacy on my twitter, since my updates are shown on my employee website next to my photo. It stops me from cursing IE with strong words, but that's about it.

  • Lars Gunther says:

    So, does your mother in law read your blog? If so, youve already said the poiece about the anus. And publicly said that there are things you'd like to share with anyone in the world but her. Oops!

  • mdmadph says:

    Like someone else said, get rid of the Facebook-twitter-reposting app. πŸ˜›

    Keep them separate.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks for your comments! With all do respect, I think you're slightly missing the point there – this isn't mainly a technical problem, it's more of a social and community problem.

    Regarding the kind suggestions:

    Multiple Twitter accounts: No way. It's enough of a hassle to have one.

    Don't publish tweets to Facebook: Why not? There are lots and lots of people and friends of mine who are on Facebook, that don't like/want to use Twitter. In all honesty, I generally get more feedback in Facebook than in Twitter (which is kind of a disappointment…), so why wouldn't I want to integrate that?

    Blocking status updates to some people: Also, far from optimal, but the

    only technical approach that would "solve" the problem with minimal effort.


    Thanks for the tip!


    Too many people on there that I can't reach/connect to even close to as easy as now.


    As far as I know, she doesn't read my blog.

    And really, I could share it with her, but I think both of us just prefer me not to. πŸ™‚

  • Martin S. says:

    Simple. Don't use Facebook.

  • As a rocket scientist, should I be thinking about sending probes to investigate Uranus?

  • Robert, thank you so much for addressing this problem!

    On Twitter, I talk to friends, co-workers and even clients, and often I wonder: "Should I really post this?"

    Then again, all of these people obviously like me, or they wouldn't be my friends, work with me, or hire me. So, while I would never say anything extreme, I'm always trying to express myself — without offending people.

    I don't think social networks online are so much different from RL that way. You wouldn't say certain things in public in RL either. That's why most networks have private messages.

    We have to find the balance somehow, just as we do in everyday life.

    <a href="; title="listen to this song on" rel="nofollow">Audioslave – "Be Yourself is all that you can do …"

  • This is why Twitter needs to introduce groups. The ability to separate our contacts into friends, family, work, public, private, etc. would make it so much easier to judge the appropriateness of a potential tweet.

  • Steven Clark says:

    pssst… you need another account for everyone else, and a nearly silent honeypot account for the inlaws.

    just something I learned the hard way πŸ™‚

  • I agree there is a granularity issue here and without some tagging/token kung fu you aren't going to solve it. No said you have to be Facebook friends with every family member. One of my family members just de-friended over 50 people–including in-laws. As to Twitter, you shouldn't be posting items publicly that you'd mind anyone seeing– yes, anyone. Either you care or you don't care, God and Google will find you out in the end. . .

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Martin S,

    As mentioned above: no.


    No probe, NO probe! πŸ™‚


    I'm glad you feel the same way! In the end, though, it's about being authentic as well. Don't write things other people want, write what you want.


    Groups could help to a certain extent at least, yes.


    Ha ha! I don't want to know more… πŸ™‚


    Yes, but I have no problem with being friends; it's just that there are some moments when I would like to be public, but at I can't, since someone will always read it/find it.

    Either way, I agree, I will be found, some way or the other.

  • Richard Fink says:

    Your problem reminds me of a post on where Zeldman replied to someone who claimed that Zeldman's Tweets were unprofessional and had eroded that person's opinion of Zeldman professionally – in the field of web design and web standards.

    Zeldman replied that his Twittering was personal expression unrelated to his work.

    The problem is, how are we to know? Where and when do the lines get drawn? Right now, it's all a blur.

    Another example: I've been regularly emailing back and forth with two other people interested in the same things as I, professionally. But over time, I've gotten to know the preferences of both individuals and on occasion will email each individually. One of those people questioned why I was emailing him without including the other guy. Did I violate some sort of unspoken understanding by doing that? Did I cross some sort of line and show bad manners; a breach of email etiquette?

    Who the hell knows. But the more we live our lives online, the more these kinds of situations are going to crop up.

    It's certainly something the social network sites need to try and address.

    Me, I use the Mother-In-Law Blocker add-on for FireFox. Handles everything. πŸ˜‰

  • @fjallstrom says:

    this used to be a non problem – until "normal" people started using twitter. oh how i loved it when only The Elite Internet Users used twitter. i tried to trick my wife that her mother had started tweeting but it was too far fetched. although, facebook may not have been.

    i just think we need to move on. realise that we love being early adopters and let our motherinlaws have fb/twitter/myspace/playahead/etc. i'm sure there's a really cool rdf based twitter clone around the corner you could use for anal exploration.

  • RobertDM says:

    The thing that bothers me the most with social network sites is that when I think back at the time I had to read Orwell's 1984 for school (back in the pre internet days, long, long time ago in another century πŸ™‚ ) I comforted myself with the thought that technically it would never be possible to create a big brother system… nowadays I realise it's not some totalitarian regime which is implementing bigbrother: we're all actually creating it voluntarily by ourself with very little questions about the possible consequences.

  • Matt Robin says:

    Lists already solves this problem on Facebook…dividing your friends up in to groups (it's sorely needed on twitter too).

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Very interesting, and I think it really hits the spot. I try to be consistent, i.e. something I write on, for instance, Twitter, is something I would publish here or say in my working life to customers/colleagues.

    Sure, you do have different stances depending on where you are or who are present, but I think that if your different personalities, if you will, don't overlap at all, you might lose out on credibility in the end.

    The e-mailing story is very interesting, because something like that really varies between people what they think is ok. I think the same goes for phone calls, people standing at a group, who you lunch with and what you say etc…

    Some people will always feel overlooked, while others don't mind one single bit. In the end, I think as long as you're open about it, most people will handle it fine – my experience is that as soon as people think they are being left our or other people share secrets behind their back, that's when things get really messy.


    To be honest, maybe so. Perhaps we will always need some closed-in thing for our peers, and then some completely different channel for relatives et al.


    Yes, and it's probably one of the biggest issues. I am, or at least pretend to be, fairly aware of what I share and the implications of it. But there are so many people, especially younger, who risk a lot with over-exposing themselves.

    I'm all for openness, but it is very likely we will see some backlash in the future because people have gotten hurt.


    Yes, that might do, but then it all comes down to the technical bit again. Meaning, more work for me (or anyone writing), and it still leaves the social dilemma behind.

    What should we share? What could we share? What is decent, accepted and reasonable?

  • I've kinda got a built-in filtering system because my family only uses Facebook; they don't use Twitter.

    I have many development and designer friends that use Twitter and Facebook. Then there are people I've met online and only use Twitter; we don't really know each other, but follow along on Twitter because we have common interests.

    The solution for me was easy: I use Syrinx to update only my Twitter account, MoodBlast to update both Facebook and Twitter, and a Fluid application to update Facebook. So far, this is working.

    However, work and personal have started to clash as coworkers start to pick up on Twitter. Now, how do I tweet about how stupid management's decision was so that I can get some sympathy from others who have been there?

    I think it would be helpful to have groups in Twitter. Unfortunately, that would complicate the Twitter apps and suddenly tweeting could become a several-step process. That would kinda defeat the purpose.

    Perhaps the solution will have to be internal. Maybe at some point we all just have to accept that each little online communication is part of a whole: a person. There will be things we like and things we dislike, but they are still there and we just may not be able to filter them out.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Thanks for your tips! I think you're spot on with you conclusion: if we share something in some media/forum, it's inevitable that anyone will, sooner or later, pick up on that.

    So I think that what we share, we must be ready to share with anyone.

  • Haha. I was fearing the same situation coming to me. MY mother in law came up with that same idea. I'm happy to say that she hasnt put her threats to reality yet. πŸ™‚

    This is my analysis: The more "friends" you have on facebook, the more shallow your status updates will be. The whole idea gets watered.

    You example there with the anus post is right on the spot! That would really be hilarious reading. But I understand you completely. I wuld not had post it either.

    And what can you do?

    Facebook lacks the ability to separate different areas in life. It's just a huge megafon. (whats that in english?) you know what i mean..

    C ya.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Yes, eitehr more shallow, or you just come to a point where you don't give a damn. πŸ™‚

    And it will come to you, mark my words!

    The word you're looking for is bullhorn, by the way. πŸ™‚

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