Privacy and the Internet: A challenging balance, especially when you’re getting white supremacist hate mail

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I got some hate mail this week. Most of it landed in my spam folder, thankfully, but a few ended in my inbox. I didn’t read every e-mails in full—just the first sentence, or long enough to realize what kind of correspondence it was. These tirades, calling for me to kill myself, or saying that I was a whore or whatever, came from a certain group of white supremacists who were angered by my column last week saying they were irrelevant.

I wasn’t going to write about this mail, not wanting to encourage the senders, but I feel that the experience is the negative extreme version of a rather vulnerable position I find myself in a lot as I put thoughts and words out into the world.

It has to do with being a writer, but also with just being a person who actively uses social media. I really only use Facebook extensively (Twitter less so), probably because I tend to have more interactions there, and let’s be honest, I’m a bit addicted to the constant stream of comments, posts, pictures and exchange of emotion between almost strangers.

In my “real life,” I only have a few friends. I don’t see them enough, and for some of them you wouldn’t necessarily know that we’re friends through our digital interactions. But I have this whole other realm of my social media friends—people I interact with every week, sometimes on a daily basis. I’ve gotten better, in the last year, of guarding my personal life and not putting every little thought or picture up for the world to see, but I certainly post my fair share of personal information, which of course is also mixed up with professional use- posting stories, and attempting to gather information.

The latter has been a tool for me for several years, although recently, the Twin Cities Daily Planet has made a push for writers to engage even more with followers. That’s getting easier as I increase the number of my “friends” and therefore access to sources from all walks of life.

It can be confusing to navigate the different levels of public persona—presenting myself as a person I want to be, and at the same time achieving the perfect level of professional friendliness with the universe. It makes me feel very naked. Sometimes I feel a desire to just shut it all down. Who are these people, and why do they know so much about me? But of course, it is all information I have freely shared with the world.

It’s not that privacy is impossible. I know plenty of people who simply do not show up on a Google search at all. I secretly admire them—how do they do it? How can they keep such close hold on their personal information? The flip side is that my growing Internet presence allows me to have a stronger voice in the world, for whatever that’s worth. I suppose it takes a certain amount of arrogance to believe what you have to say is worth listening to, but for whatever reason, I keep on with this track and hope that somehow I can be of at least some interest, if not value for people familiar with what I do.

In the meantime, I have to remind myself, that I am a whole person beyond the Internet, that I can hold on to some level of privacy, despite this fishbowl in which we now live.