How Much Privacy Do Your Extremely Online Friends Owe You?

How Much Privacy Do Your Extremely Online Friends Owe You?
Image: Getty

I have sympathy for influencers. Seriously. I’m closer to obscurity than I am to celebrity, but a quick google search of my name will provide evidence enough that I’m “extremely online.” As a writer, Twitter may as well be my LinkedIn. As a comedian, TikTok is like my resume. Likes, comments, and followers — for those of us in public-facing careers, these metrics speak to our real world accomplishments.

I also have sympathy for the friends of influencers. Like many other (much more successful) creators, I strive for authenticity in everything I put online. I don’t film in an unidentifiable studio. I post from my office, my front stoop, my bed. For every inane video I create in order to maintain a TikTok presence, my extremely offline roommate wonders if I’m giving a stalker evidence enough to be able to track us down from the peeks around and into our home that I let slip into my videos.

In reality, those glimpses of my room, my neighbourhood, and my life aren’t slip-ups. They’re a key element of content creation as it currently exists. The shift away from the super polished, unattainable perfection of Instagram influencers and into seemingly candid, “real” creators has been well documented. Of course, the very act of filming and posting turns anything “spontaneous” into a manufactured performance, but never mind that. This sort of “cultivated authenticity” is seen as key to online success right now. And the easiest way to achieve authenticity is to let people into your life. Sacrificing a little privacy for a lot of likes? For many aspiring creators, it doesn’t feel like a dramatic compromise.

But friends and families of content creators didn’t necessarily sign up for that. This Reddit thread went viral last year after “IRL friends of influencers” shared their experiences living with content creators who routinely put posting before their personal relationships. What should you do when your friend’s “authenticity” comes at the expense of your own comfort? You have a right to set boundaries around your digital privacy, and your friends have an obligation to respect them. There’s every chance your trust isn’t being broken maliciously, but it’s still likely going to be an awkward talk. Here’s how to start that conversation with your extremely online friend.

Remind your friend about privacy concerns — for both of you

Once you’ve been living online for a little while, posting details about your life can start to feel second nature — but your aspiring content creator friends might be desensitised to the security risks that come with their habits. Risks of posting personal information online include fraud, harassment, and identity theft. Discussing these risks is a good way to start a conversation about your privacy concerns, since you can note that both of you could potentially be affected.

Assuming they don’t want to make any of their accounts private (which would limit their reach as a creator), try to encourage a privacy-first mindset. This means giving their posts a second look for sensitive information before they go public, and reining in the “must-post-immediately” instinct that so many content creators feel.

Keep in mind that your online friend may be well aware of the risks and have already deemed them worth it. In that case, it might be time to steer the conversation in a more personal direction.

Set clear boundaries

There’s a chance your friend is oblivious to your discomfort. I know firsthand how the pursuit of virality can give someone tunnel vision. Someone who has posted about their personal life regularly for years can easily lose sight of why their posts would make a friend uneasy.

Even if you can’t articulate exactly what troubles you, but you know that you’re vaguely uncomfortable with your friend posting about you, you can still set clear boundaries to protect your privacy. Here are some examples of things you might express to your extremely online friend:

  • No posting anything that features your voice/face/name without permission.
  • Always asking before filming something. If they “need” it to be “candid,” request that they capture moments when you’re out of the room.
  • Only use the “live” feature of Instagram and TikTok in a controlled environment.
  • Make certain rooms or occasions camera-free zones.
  • No revealing details that concern your life as well, e.g. the neighbourhood you live in, where you work, a story about a horrid date you went on, etc.

If the above requests seem unreasonable to your friend, then it might be time for a bigger conversation about your relationship.

Ask your friend to examine their priorities

If your friend has decided that it’s more important for them to film your birthday dinner than enjoy your company in the moment, their current priorities might be a dealbreaker in your relationship. As every single movie about fame shows us, stardom is never worth sacrificing your personal relationships. (Do we need another remake of A Star is Born focused on TikTok influencers? Too late. I’m opening my screenwriting software now.)

At the end of the day, your privacy concerns are valid. It’s all too easy to find anyone through the powers of the internet. Here’s our guide to disappearing from the internet — assuming that your friend does indeed stop including you in their posts.

I know I’ve become desensitised to how much of my life I broadcast online. As an aspiring writer/comic, it feels like par for the course — a necessary sacrifice I came to terms with years ago. For friends of people like me: Speak up about your concerns. Hopefully, you can help your friend understanding that respecting your boundaries are more important than posting online. Your right to privacy is more important than someone else’s so-called authenticity.

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