A new word for Facebookers and social networkers who cavalierly post embarrassing information about themselves to the web: thinvisibility: Here’s a starting definition:
- Being neither completely visible nor completely invisible.
- Being a tiny, shiny needle in a haystack of information overload.
- Being invisible to everyone except data aggregators and digital preservationists such as Google, the Wayback Machine, the NSA, and others.
- Being invisible to employers, colleges, police, neighbors, friends, exes, stalkers, acquaintances, and others, who are not interested in you, until they are.
- Being visible.
I’ve written before about the “creepiness factor,” the uneasy feeling some get when they realize their blogs and social-networking postings are read by “unwanted” visitors like police, employers, professors, etc. Add to that list corporate America. The New York Times writes about Comcast’s efforts to reach customers complaining about it on blogs and social-networking sites. One student complained about Comcast on his blog:
Shortly afterward, he received an e-mail message from Comcast, thanking him for the feedback and adding that it was working on a new interactive guide that might “illuminate the issues that you are currently experiencing.”
[He] found it all a bit creepy. “The rest of his e-mail may as well have read, ‘Big Brother is watching you,’ ” he said.
A woman’s Twitter complaint about Comcast led to a quick but unexpected response:
“It’s one thing to spit vitriol about a company when they can’t hear you,” she said in an interview. It’s another, she said, when the company replies. “I immediately backed down and softened my tone when I knew I was talking to a real person.”
I can see why some people might be creeped out by Comcast’s outreach efforts, but they shouldn’t be. People keep assuming that the relative anonymity of the web will keep their postings effectively invisible. That’s naive. There’s nothing anonymous about the Internet when postings are quickly found by those who want to see what you’re doing (such as prosecutors, as Kaimipono Wenger blogged about recently), or by companies who want to know what you’re saying about them. The sooner people realize that “relative” web anonymity is not really anonymity at all, the more savvy they’ll hopefully become about their online postings.
Plus, done tactfully and personally, direct outreach by companies might be a good thing. Direct emails? Sure. Public comments on blogs or Facebook walls? Not so good. It might embarrass already-angry customers and put them on the defensive. Worse, it might trigger flame wars involving others. But a direct email is far less confrontational, and far more likely to lead to satisfied, albeit occasionally creeped-out customers.