UnSummit: Private vs. Public

On Saturday I went to the UnSummit in Minneapolis, a kind of counter-conference. It was on a Saturday. It was free. It involved more conversation than declaration (kind of like Idea Camp). I wanted to summarize some of what I learned before it slipped into the ether.

One of the big topics of the day was the separation between private and public. One of the sessions specifically addressed this issue, but other sessions kept coming back to it. It’s kind of ironic that it kept coming up because it’s an issue I’ve dealt with a lot recently. I blogged on this a while back and determined that nothing is secret. As Seth Godin said, “Always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.”

A few thoughts on the subject:

  • Honesty and integrity are the only real option. No matter how much you try to lock down and protect your information, it’s never completely secure. You could slip up, someone else could post it, someone who you gave access to could share it with someone you don’t want to see it. Basically you have no control, so you better get used to the idea that whatever you say will be seen by those you don’t want to see it. So either don’t say anything you’ll regret or be prepared for the consequences. In summary, if you can’t say it to their face, don’t post it online.
  • One strategy is to use SEO tactics to point people to what you want them to see. Make sure your professional site comes up first on Google instead of your Facebook page (though this won’t hide your Facebook page from anyone who looks hard enough).
  • Another option is to overcome any negative content by flooding the web with positive content. Again, it won’t remove or negate what you don’t want people to see, but it will give a better picture of what you want them to see.
  • At some point things need to come to the middle: People need to behave more honestly, but we also need to understand the multitude of roles that are seen online simultaneously (personal, professional, parental, etc.) and cut one another some slack. People make mistakes, but that’s OK.
  • The whole point of sharing information in a public forum online is that there’s a benefit. You make connections because you didn’t just keep it to yourself. That has inherent risks, but also inherent rewards. That’s just part of the territory.
  • Employers shouldn’t treat their employees like idiots. Likewise, employees shouldn’t act like idiots.

While there’s a lot of debate and discussion around this issue, in my mind it’s pretty simple. There’s no such thing as control or privacy. If you have something to hide and someone wants to find it bad enough, they will. So either don’t have anything to hide or be prepared to live with whatever you were hiding going public.

We talked about a lot more at the UnSummit (including a great session on telling stories), but this is the topic that seemed to resonate with me and I kept coming back to. Maybe someday I’ll write a more coherent post about it, but for now hopefully that gets the ideas out there.

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