Blogging: Protecting Privacy

I’m sure we have all read a least one book that has a disclaimer in it that goes something like this: “All characters herein are purely fictional and are not meant to represent any one real person living or deceased.” It’s the CYA clause so an author does not get sued for defamation of character or whatever.

But what about blogging or writing non-fiction? I face this issue more often than I would like in trying to put career info out there to the masses. The student who sent a chocolate resume through the mail to be different and it melted. The actor who also moonlighted as a nurse. These are people who have shown up in my blogs, and there are many more out there in previous career blogs I’ve written with other career counselors.

It raises the question: How much do you anonymize in your blogs? Obviously, you do it enough that it does not reveal the identity of the person to whom you are referring, especially if the info shows the person, albeit unintentionally, in a negative light. But in my career dealings with students or career development clients, it is hard to steer away from. After all, telling and hearing stories is one powerful way in which we learn. We learn from others’ experiences.

I often self-disclose when counseling or advising students or clients, but there’s also a limit on how much of that I want to do myself. I do not want to come across looking like an idiot, but sometimes it is easier to illustrate how to learn from mistakes when they are my own. And there are also times when it does come across as bragging or tooting my own horn: for example, telling my struggling Stanford engineering advisees how I thought I would never make it through Cornell, but I did and they can make it through Stanford too. Focusing more on strategies for surviving college helps, but self-disclosure and how much to tell can be a tricky thing. Sometimes it blows up it my face: “Yes, but that was Cornell, and this is Stanford!” Or, “OK, so you know what it’s like then to have to read 500 pages every other night for one class while preparing for four other classes.”

I think, oftentimes, that if you have a really valid point to make and a powerful story that goes along with it, getting permission from the person involved in the story makes sense, especially if no names are named and I protect that person’s identity. But this is still an issue with which I constantly struggle as I learn to be a better writer and counselor.

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