Leone Kraus

LGBT Social Media Ethics: Please Don't Post That!

Filed By Leone Kraus | April 04, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Friendfactor, lgbt social media, social media ethics

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In 2003, I opened a Friendster account. In 2007, a MySpace account. In 2008, a Facebook account. In 2009, a LinkedIn account. In 2010, a Twitter account and a dot429 account. Most recently, in 2011, I opened a Friendfactor account. Needless to say, over the past eight years, I've been pretty busy on a variety of social networking sites.

Each of these platforms offers a different experience for users. Friendster, which launched in 2002, allowed you to create a simple profile and upload photos. MySpace, which launched in 2003, introduced the comment wall so you could leave messages for your friends. Facebook, which launched at Harvard in February 2004 and then to all in September 2006, took ideas from MySpace and made them more functional and added in new features like the "POKE." LinkedIn, which launched in 2003, provided a professional environment where you could upload your resume and connect with colleagues and network for job prospects. Twitter, which launched in 2006, let you easily follow your friends to share instant updates and vice versa. In 2008, dot429 created the first professional LGBT and straight ally platform so that members in the community could easily connect and network with one another. Lastly, in 2010, Friendfactor created the first social platform dedicated solely to LGBT advocacy.

Even though each platform offers different functionality and serves a different purpose, there's one thing that has remained the same for me - I've always been openly gay on them. Without restriction, I've allowed my peers to post comments or photos that would allow one to identify that I was gay. Because I've been openly gay for more than half of my life, whether someone in my network accepts whether I'm gay or not has never been a concern of mine. I will note that I do have most of my colleagues at my day job blocked from my wall and profile information on Facebook. This isn't because I'm uncomfortable being openly gay but rather because I enjoy having some control over what's being shared and what's not being shared with my professional peers.

The reality is, not everyone is openly gay like I am. Many hide their sexuality from others for professional, personal, or for safety reasons. Sometimes it is for reasons that are known by peers and sometimes they're not. However, with the influx of social networking sites and users being accustomed to the idea of sharing everything they do with their online communities, it seems many have lost the notion of what privacy is and what respecting it means. It is one thing to exploit what you yourself do in your life on these platforms but it is another when you start sharing what your friends are doing

Last year, I explored the idea of whether someone who is gay should indeed be openly gay on these platforms and what it meant for their privacy in a post entitled, "Should I Be Me?" (click here for the cross post on Bilerico) The post explored the idea that not everyone who is on Facebook, or any other social networking site, is openly gay. Your peers may be openly gay to you because you make them comfortable to share such information, but they may not be openly gay to their family or friends back home.

For the piece, I used the fictional couple, Chad and Jason, to illustrate my point. Chad works for a liberal book publishing company and volunteers for a variety of LGBT organizations in his free time. Jason, the boyfriend of Chad, is a lawyer who hides his sexuality for professional reasons but also enjoys volunteering for the LGBT organizations. During one of their volunteer excursions, a fellow volunteer snaps a photo of Chad and Jason at work and uploads the photo onto Facebook. Voila, Jason's sexuality is at risk of being revealed to his professional colleagues.

Here's another example, which isn't fictional and happened after I wrote the 'Should I Be Me?' post. I did some traveling recently to visit a friend. My friend is openly gay to me but not on their Facebook account. Like any tourist, I brought my camera to many of the activities we did. Snapping photos here and there of tourist attractions was not a problem but when it came to social activities like hanging out at the gay bar or having dinner with her girlfriend, she asked that I not post those photos on Facebook. It's not that she is uncomfortable being gay but rather because she wanted to have some control over how she presents herself on Facebook. She feels it is irrelevant for people who are acquaintances or business connections to know that she is gay. She saves this personal information only for her closest friends. If people want to jump to the conclusion that she is straight, then so be it, but she feels that if someone really wants to get to know her, they will discover that she is gay when the time is right.

I wanted to share this real life example because it happened after I wrote the piece, "Should I Be Me?" Alexandra Samuel, the director of the Social and Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC, caught wind of my piece last year. She adds to my post in her own critique:

If there's one more lesson I would add to Leone's list, it's that the nuances of being out online should remind us that many people have life situations and circumstances we don't know about -- circumstances that can explain online behaviours that otherwise perplex us. Before you judge someone's authenticity online, consider the possibility that they could have valid reasons for selective self-disclosure.

Alexandra's exact point is illustrated by my friend's request not to post certain pictures that would identify her as being gay. Fortunately for my friend, she was comfortable enough to ask me not to post pictures that would jeopardize her request for online privacy but not everyone has these types of relationships and not everyone is comfortable asking their friends not to share photos or personal information about them online.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to take a deep dive into what it means to be openly LGBT on these social media platforms. Social media sites aren't going anywhere. If anything, they're only getting more personalized and allow users to share personal information about themselves and their friends more freely.

So tell me, are you a victim of an unwanted social post that solicited something about yourself that you didn't want others to know?

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I was outed to my parents because their church printed out pages from my Facebook.

I taught first grade Sunday school with my mom from 2000-2006 regularly until I was in college, and then I would do it whenever I was home. Summer of 2009, they started doing background checks. December of 2009, I learned that included Facebook. I had church friends blocked from specific content, but the background check allowed them to get past that, somehow. I came home for winter break and my parents sat me down at the kitchen table with pages from my Facebook profile with highlighted bits that outed me as gay and as an atheist.

I was out on Facebook and at college, but I thought I had taken the proper precautions to remain closeted to those I thought I needed to hide from. I've toned down the cursing and posted less gay stuff because I'm job hunting, but I won't hide my relationship with my girlfriend, and I'm not going back into the closet online.

But on a different note, I'll ask friends I go to bars with who take pictures not to post pictures that have me with visible alcohol.

Thanks for sharing your story Hannah. I'm hoping to look deeper into the online privacy tools on Facebook in a future post.

No need to be afraid of Social Networking Anymore.

OutRus Launched the First Phase of Its Niche Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Online Social Network Open for Teens and Adults


Out”R”us launched the first phase of its niche LGBT social network. OutRus is a social network targeted toward the LGBT Community. Out”R”us is also open to teens and is standing by its principals of not being a dating site as are most gay social network sites.


New York, NY, June 06, 2011 --(PR.com)-- On May 21st 2010 Out”R”us launched the first phase of its niche LGBT social network. OutRus is a social network targeted toward the LGBT Community. Out”R”us is also open to teens and is standing by its principals of Not being a dating site as are most gay social network sites.

The site is free membership and it is loaded with features and it is just starting. Out”R”us will be unveiling a new version by the end of the summer 2011, loaded with great and interactive features.

Since it's official launch on May 1st 2011, the site has received over 500,000 hits, not usual for a startup website with so much competition. Out"R"us is also standing by their decision of “Not” having advertising take over the site's contents, so no pop-up ads, banners and spyware will be seen by its members.

"We have created a place where everyone can feel comfortable, making friends and openly share their life experiences or ask for advice from other Members,"

"The majority gay social network websites now that are out there, seem to be over-glorified personals with some very minor social functionality. They seem to use social network as a buzzword, versus what they actually are. When people think Social Networking, they think Facebook and MySpace. That’s what we closely resemble in comparison to. Our core focus is on bringing the LGBT community together and creating friendships and letting members share their life experience,"

OutRus LGBT Social Network is an edu-tainment social network website where Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & transgender can freely Share, Explore & Meet with other Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & transgender around the world. "I have always believed that the LGBT Community should had the opportunity to experience one another on a 'global network,' learned prejudices would be virtually non-existent,"

Leone, AWESOME POST AS USUAL! I'm also out everywhere, but I always get nervous about interacting with others on networks because I don't know how out THEY are. This is all very very very important for us to keep in mind!

Archwright | April 4, 2011 1:33 PM

I ask my friends not to take pictures of me unless I specifically request it.

I know that there are photos of me on Facebook. One of the reasons I'm considering joining is to ask people to remove them.

I suppose my desire for complete control over my online identity is a bit absurd. I know it is impossible. I wonder how much damage I'll do to my online identity if I act like a control freak.

Thanks for taking the time to comment Archwright. I agree, I think trying to maintain complete control of your identity online is hard to do. Photos and information can be shared about you without you even knowing. I actually have a Google Alert set-up for my name and personal blog so that I can attempt to track when people are posting something out me, or what the organizations that I'm involved with are posting about me.

As for joining Facebook, I think it's an excellent idea. If you're in a position where you can ask your friends not to share photos of you, I think that's a perfectly valid request. I would also add, that nowadays, when someone is taking a picture, it's okay to ask where (or if) they're going to post it. I've started doing this lately and it's worked out great in my attempt to control what people share about me.

My experience has been that this issue is much more broad than online media or orientation.

Example: Sue mentions she is dealing with a flare-up in her eating disorder; I later run into Sam, who is also friends with Sue. Some folks in that situation will be comfortable mentioning to Sam, I'm really worried about Sue and her current food struggle; unless I've gotten the clear indication from Sue that this is semi-public information among other friends, though, I shy away from that.

There is a saying, we're only as sick as our secrets, which makes me crazy. The better alternative, if you ask me, is we're only as well as our boundaries (and our ability to attract friends who appreciate them).

This has got me thinking and I've got three things to say.

First, ironically, I've been outed much more by that monolith of old school media -- the newspaper. I was out before running for university student government, but managed to go back in the closet for the election and with my other student senators. However, a conservative student paper dug up an earlier interview I did and and printed transphobic jokes about me.

I was outed in another way by a mainstream newspaper after I got a quick and dirty legal marriage. I'm so used to folks double checking before doing something that could out you in such a big way, I didn't consider that an announcement would automatically be sent to the newspaper. A friend of my parents saw it and told them. I wasn't really planning on telling anyone about that legal contract, so it came as a bit of a shock. And of course, if anyone didn't know that I was queer already, they could have found out that way.

Secondly, I think it's important to consider a wide range of things that people might not be out about - as well as the range of consequences that may come with them. The risk of losing your job for being gay still exists, but it's much lower than the risk of losing your job if you're trans, or losing your kids if you're poly, freaking out your family if you're kinky, or facing legal consequences if you're a sex worker. When I have to be careful not to out someone on social media, those are all things that worry me much more.

And finally, when it comes to facebook photos, one of the things that bothers me much more than the context of the photos is the quality. I put a lot of energy working with my image, doing photoshoots with professional photographers, using images for promotional materials, etc. It can just be annoying to have someone take 200 photos at a party and post them all regardless of quality. Then I get tagged in one where I'm not even the focus of the picture, just in the background mid sneeze.

Really? I understand that everyone has a unique situation and we must respect each individual's personal boundaries. I also understand that not everyone lives in a big urban area, works in friendly industries, or is surrounded by educated liberals.

At the same time, this is the 21st century, and the majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. I feel the need to hide my same-sex spouse about as much I feel the need to hide my brown eyes. When people around me act as if I have some big, dark secret that needs to be concealed from others, it is usually an indication that they themselves think that something is wrong with me. The few gay friends I have had that act like their sexuality is some kind of secret have been dealing with their own internal struggles. In my experience, they simply haven't realized yet that most people could not care less.

Now, people posting pictures of you online partying is an entirely different matter.

Thanks for commenting Michael. Yes, a majority of people support same-sex marriage...by what....53%.This is also based off a sample size that we hope is accurate projection of our country's belief on the matter. Even though we have this poll, we still don't have full equal rights protection under the federal law.

I also have a friend who is gay and Muslim who does not like to have pictures posted from gay events...is this a matter of it being the 21st century and her family should be okay with it?...

The reality is, there are just some things that we can't assume about others. If we assume they should be okay having their picture posted, doesn't that make us come off as kind of elitist?

I don't drink often and my family has a history of alcoholism, (hence why I rarely drink!) so if anyone uploads a picture from a get together that shows me with a drink, I untag myself.

My school completely outed me at an academic conference 6months ago, in print. Then told me they did nothing wrong..... they didn't have my permission,consent and I didn't find out until I read it in the conference brochure. Mind you, I was one of the presenters. Its sad, that even in acadamia where you may think that these things don't happen but they do. When I attempted to explain to the Dean of all people the danger I was put in, they shrugged as if I were overreacting to a simple misprint. I couldn't complete the semester and am still traumatized by it.
Smh

I am a trans woman. I am not completely transitioned, and live a part of my life an the male person I was born. Because I work in a technical industry where being male is a distinct advantage, I do not share my transgender status with prospective employers. In fact, I still work as a male. I do not share my female side with those people, and the social media could very easily cost me my job. I regulate very carefully who has access to my facebook account, as a form of self-preservation. After all, in most places it is legal to discriminate against transgender people.