Keep it professional. That’s what we tell high-school and college students about their Facebook and Twitter accounts. We explain that employers can and will mine your personal social media for data, and that what you say online can follow you forever. Anecdotes of young people who lost jobs, got arrested, or were deeply embarrassed by something they posted on Facebook abound. We tell young people that you shouldn’t post anything online you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper. I give my students this advice because I think it’s true. But I also think it’s problematic. And I can’t seem to follow it myself.
I grew up on the Internet. I networked my own computer as a first-year student at Wellesley College, worked on Wellesley’s first web server, and taught myself HTML during a summer working as a secretary. I was intoxicated by the possibility of getting my ideas out into the world and crafted elaborate personal homepages with endless personal stories, through which I met strangers, had lengthy online conversations, and traded mix tapes through the mail. My passion for the early web resulted in two internships at Microsoft, a failed stint in the dot.com world, and the eventual realization that I could study digital culture as a profession. Now I am an assistant professor of communication and media studies, and my students and I investigate the norms, technical functionality, and implications of social media. I no longer post in-depth essays of my thoughts and feelings or talk about my personal history online; it’s too risky. But I use Pinterest and Instagram frequently, and I tweet a lot. <Read more.>