Establishing Digital Boundaries

online accounts
November 8, 2022

In the ever-expanding, increasingly invasive world of technology and social media, how do you maintain your personal “space?”  How do you draw boundaries on social media to replicate the boundaries you’ve established in your in-person life?

Picture this scenario: You are enjoying a cup of coffee at your favorite local coffee shop. A vaguely familiar man walks up to you and says, “Hey Janet, it’s me, Bobby Fisher! Eastmont High? I was in the class behind you. We were in drama together. Remember? Long time, no see!”  You respond enthusiastically to compensate for the fact that you don’t actually remember him or drama class (it was over 20 years ago, but who’s counting?).

Bobby immediately avails himself of the empty chair at your table and begins peppering you with increasingly personal questions about what you’re up to these days: “Are you married? Do you live around here? Do you have kids? What do you do for a living?” The onslaught of personal questions makes you uncomfortable, but you answer as vaguely and politely as possible while looking for an opportunity to escape the conversation.

You make up an excuse to leave, and as you scurry towards the coffee shop door, Bobby calls out, “Hope to see you here again!” You speed-walk to your car and then spend the next 30 minutes Googling other local coffee shops to avoid another Bobby encounter. Bobby invaded your personal space, made you uncomfortable, and you plan to avoid him in the future.  

Now, let’s change this up a little. It’s mid-pandemic, so instead of a coffee shop, you’re sitting at home drinking a cup of (less expensive) coffee while waiting for your fourth Zoom meeting of the day to begin. A Facebook notification pops up on your screen: new Friend Request from “Bobby Fisher.”  You check out his profile – he looks vaguely familiar. You share a few common friends, mostly some old high school contacts that you friended after your 20th reunion you swore you’d stay in touch with but haven’t spoken to since the event. Bobby’s profile shows he went to Eastmont High and lives nearby. While you don’t REALLY remember him, you feel obligated to accept his friend request. With one click, you’ve just invited Bobby into your world.  

Bobby now knows that your 12th wedding anniversary was four days ago because you posted a photo of you and your husband Jake eating take-out from the restaurant where you spent your first date. He knows you have two kids because your last four posts were angry memes about homeschooling, 2nd grade Common Core math, and high school biology. He knows your birthday, last three jobs, and that you have 337 “friends.” For the next few hours, Bobby is checking out your profile to see what you’re up to these days: your vacation photos, favorite restaurants, the gym where you “checked in” regularly before the pandemic—a treasure trove of personal information that you would have kept to yourself in the coffee shop. But in today’s digital community, this new online connection means that Bobby is now sitting at your virtual coffee table sipping a latté while you regale him with the intimate details of your life. If this intrusion makes you uncomfortable—and it should—consider setting boundaries in your digital world.

One great way to start setting boundaries is to reconsider who you accept as a “friend” on social media. Limit public posts altogether and stick to private “friends-only” posts. Other options include:

  • Creating sub-groups within your “Friends List” for more trusted contacts so that personal posts are limited to only those individuals.
  • Disable tagging so others cannot pull you into their public posts.
  • Turn off location services and geotagging on your posts.
  • Regularly check your privacy settings on each of your social media accounts to ensure they have not defaulted to a less-secure setting.

See a more detailed list of social media best practices, tips, and tricks to protect your personal space and information. As technology advances and your networks grow, the “Bobbys” of the world are only a click away, and when they come knocking on your digital door, it’s OK to shut the door in their face.

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