This question came up in the Poly Weekly inbox this week. It’s one we’ve touched on on the podcast several times, but it’s worth a quick evaluation here on the blog as well. Social networking sites such as Facebook have really changed the definition of being “out.” Facebook currently has over 800 million users, Twitter has 250 million and even budding visual social site Pinterest crossed the 10 million user mark faster than any other site in history.
And since Facebook is notorious for having complicated privacy settings that are difficult to navigate and not entirely guaranteed to ensure privacy levels, online privacy on social sites is a growing concern.
Polyamory’s legal status
Now, in general, I’m not a fan of being too much in the closet. Unlike sexual orientation, however, polyamory isn’t a legally protected orientation. Practitioners can be fired or not hired due to their lifestyle and have no legal recourse. So keep in mind that apart from your family and friends discovering orientation through Facebook, your employment status may be at risk as well. After all, Facebook is the second most trafficked site in the world, and many recruiters use Facebook as a recruiting tool; it would be irresponsible of them not to take all the information available into consideration for future employment. (And users benefit from using Facebook for job hunting, too–that same infographic shows that 48% of job seekers have performed at least one job hunting activity on Facebook in the last year and that 16% received a job referral from a Facebook friend.)
Outside of Facebook, it’s also true that any responsible employer will Google new prospects and have access to any of your personal information that is publicly available, including anything you might have posted about your religion, sexual orientation, political views, and medical status. It’s not legal for an employer to ask for this information, but it is legal to Google a prospective employee and peruse publicly available information.
How open is OK?
So this is a case where your boyfriend’s openness could in fact affect not only your private family life but your ability to remain employed as well. Personally, I solved this issue by keeping two Facebook accounts–one vanilla one in which I’m listed as “single” and so can talk about dating, and my Minx account, which lists my open status and LustyGuy as my boyfriend (who links to his wife). However, I wouldn’t recommend that for most people. It’s cumbersome to manage two Facebook accounts and frankly wouldn’t be worth the effort for most users.
But the truth is that the internet and social sites such as Facebook have indeed changed things. Your boyfriend’s public open status does affect you in many ways, not the least of which is that now anyone with mutual Facebook friends can discover you are poly. For most people, this might be a public embarrassment or cause some eyebrow raises at the office or at Thanksgiving, nothing more. If that’s the case, no worries. But keep in mind that in addition to your your mom and grandma being able to discover your open status, that bitter ex-husband might also see that Facebook status. And unfortunately, that documentation has been used in child custody cases to argue against a person being a fit parent.
I don’t mean to be too gloom and doom here. The point is that since data lives forever online and Facebook has shameful privacy policies, it is perfectly acceptable–nay, it’s your responsibility–to discuss public online disclosures of your relationship status in order to protect your own privacy.
Rule of thumb
A good rule of thumb is the “grandmother rule”: assume that every piece of information you are putting online will be read by the one person you don’t want to see it (i.e., your grandma). Also, ask permission before posting any public information about a partner. It is a good idea to ask before you post:
- Location information
- Relationship status
- Information about dates, parties or events
I’m curious about how others handle privacy and posting to social networks and other Googleable information. What is your policy?