Privacy tips from Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess

Jenny Lawson, a.k.a. the Bloggess, spoke about privacy at the BlogHer ’14 conference. Her keynote was not billed as a speech about privacy. In fact, I’m not sure she ever even used the word “privacy.” Still, in describing her own writing process she listed a series of privacy tips that are good practice for anyone writing a memoir, a blog post, or even just a Facebook status.

If you are not a fan of Jenny Lawson you have either never read her or do not appreciated twisted humor. Her blog, The Bloggess, and best-selling book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, are full of odd and potentially embarrassing stories about herself and her family. Lawson also writes quite candidly about her struggles with mental illness.

Jenny Lawson The BloggessBecause she consistently shares cringe-worthy (yet quite funny) moments, people tend to think that she’ll write about anything. She corrected this misconception while speaking to an audience of a few thousand bloggers at the BlogHer ’14 conference in San Jose.

“People may think I don’t have boundaries,” Lawson said. “I do have boundaries. It’s just that I have no filter.”

Then, Lawson went on to describe her own boundaries for deciding what to write and what to avoid. These are good privacy rules for us all to follow whenever we are writing something that includes other people:

  • Don’t be mean.
  • Don’t tell a story where someone is the butt of the joke more than you are.
  • Never write anything that you think will make someone say, “I can’t believe she [or he] married that asshole.”
  • Never write anything about your children that an angry 14 year old may someday be able to use against them. (Lawson recalled destroying her own naked baby pictures to avoid such a problem when she was a teen.)

Lawson also noted that everyone mentioned in her book was a given a copy before it was published. She told them they had the option to delete anything they wanted. She said that no one asked for anything to be removed (in fact some members of her family suggested she add things). Regardless, it was incredibly considerate that she gave them the option.

Actress Kerry Washington also spoke at BlogHer ’14. One thing she talked about is how she chooses to keep her personal life private. Although she is very active on social media she does not share things about her marriage or her experience as a mother.

On a sharing spectrum from Kerry Washington to Jenny Lawson many bloggers and active social media users tend to skew towards the Bloggess. That is, they want to share personal stories whether it be lamenting how boring today day was or sharing old family stories about taking pictures of taxidermied raccoons in 80s shorts. (I’m not making that second one up. Seriously, read Jenny Lawson’s book.) Some people even extend the spectrum further toward Kardashian.

Where you fall on the spectrum is your choice, but also realize that in making your choices about what to share online or in a book you are also making privacy choices for the people around you.

Few of us spend our lives alone. When we choose to share things about our lives we usually end up revealing things about others as well. It is our responsibility to respect that others may have different boundaries than we do. As the the Bloggess shows, you can share a whole lot without being inconsiderate to the people who are around you.

The people in your life will (ideally) be around long after your the views on a viral post have dwindled and your book has fallen off the best seller list. Think of Jenny Lawson’s privacy tips the next time you post.


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You can also find Kim Z. Dale on Twitter and Google+ and like Listing Beyond Forty on Facebook.

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