This post was originally written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course and was published at /usr/space, but it is relevant for anyone who would like to develop their blogging skills. Many academics have little or no blogging experience, so this post is aims to suggest some resources that might be useful in terms of developing skills in online professional communication. It is part of a short series of articles on blogging that I will be posting here. You may also want to find additional resources on our Blogging page.
One of the things I always notice in other people’s blogs is the use of images that show other people. We need to use caution when uploading pictures into online spaces, since they become circulated far more widely than was the original intention. Even if you did obtain the person’s permission to take the photo, did you get permission to share it with others? With the world? We often use pictures like that because it really does show people a part of ourselves that we want to share but we need to be mindful of the other people in the picture. When it comes to our own professional practice, there are different sets of rules that apply. Information shared with us during interactions with others (and photos are just visual information) are often assumed to be private and confidential and there is an expectation that it will not be shared beyond the scope of the original interaction.
What about discussing colleagues or anyone else who you interact with in the course of your employment? What is the difference between having those conversations with peers and students in the classroom, and having the same conversation online? Well, for one thing, online almost always equals in public. The rule of thumb I always use is to ask myself how (or if) I would say what I want to say if the person I was talking about was going to read my work? What if the person you’re talking about comes across your post one day when you apply for a job at their institution? Even if you’re not talking about them, will they want to hire someone who speaks poorly of a colleague in public?
The other thing that you need to think about is how you feel about sharing your own life online. Even though sharing your thoughts and feelings may be beneficial in terms of presenting an authentic personal point of view, you should never feel pressured or obligated to put online something that you’d prefer to keep private. You can be as public or private as you like. I personally share very little of my personal life online but write often about my feelings around my professional life. My emotional response to the professional context is something I’m very comfortable sharing. However, my emotional response to things that happen in my personal life is not for the public view. That’s just how I prefer to establish the boundaries of my online presence – you can choose what works for you.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we should always be mindful about what and how we share online. When something is discussed in an elevator, it’s ephemeral. When the same thing is discussed online, it will exist forever.