BY STEPHANIE HALL
We are well on the way to making the transition away from analog information to a society based entirely on digital information, and while everyone is rushing to get on board and not be left behind, surprisingly little consideration has been given to the ramifications of posting to and sharing information in this duplicate digital world. Certainly, there are myriad advantages to the digital format of information and the ease of accessibility. However, along with the convenience, storage, and many other benefits of digital information, there is a cost. Digital information is much more difficult, if not impossible to protect and maintain its exclusivity and privacy through selective distribution as with analog data. Unfortunately, the phrase “Internet privacy” has been rendered an oxymoron in the 21st Century. The phrase is now largely a misnomer in that there is no Internet Privacy to speak of. Virtually everything you do, everywhere you go, and everything you say in the digital realm leaves an indelible footprint.
Herein, the term “Internet” is used in its broadest sense — to include all the various web-based information sharing platforms. With our ever growing dependence upon digitally formatted data — data conveyances such as: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, blog, personal and commercial web pages, etc., our lives have become duplicated electronically. Each and every one of us who is active to some degree on the Internet has created a digital profile of ourselves, including but not limited to: our likes and dislikes, opinions, associations, name, address and address history, shopping habits, purchase history, family, friends and colleagues, photos & videos, habits, and perhaps among the most risky — present location at any given time. Furthermore, your mere presence on a website is not anonymous. Wherever you go on the Internet, you leave a digital footprint, and a record of your travels throughout the websites you visit. One need not even make an online purchase to have the item or items you viewed stalk you virtually in an effort by the retailer to close the sale. The Internet has developed into a clearinghouse for data mining by anyone involved in commerce. E-mails are routinely scanned and mined for data by ISP’s, who in turn sell this invaluable information to any e-tailer willing to pay for the word-clues to your next purchase.
These concerns apply to anyone who uses digital media, and as with most things, present special problems for the Transgender population. While everyone should be mindful of the ramifications of their actions in the digital universe, Transgender persons still maintaining a secret identity to some degree are at risk of being outed by their own digital footprint.
Do not make the mistake of believing that you can maintain a secret Transgender identity on the Internet until you are ready to come out completely, and that no one will connect it to you. You may believe that no one would be able to find it because of an obscure status or other measure you have taken to disassociate your Trans-Identity from your full time pre-transition identity. However, the Internet is like a spider web wherein it is all connected and everything is discoverable. All it takes is someone looking with minimal to moderate search abilities to piece together the puzzle.
Posting anything to the Internet has become the digital equivalent of staking a sign in your front yard, or worse yet, leasing a billboard adjacent to the freeway in downtown Los Angeles featuring your most personal information. Once you post, the information is there for the looking – by anyone who cares to look.
If you are not full time, not fully transitioned, or have not yet come out to certain people in your life; most notably, at work, to family, spouse or children, your digital presence carries special risks if your only gender outlet is through digital media. No matter how well you believe that your tracks have been covered, and that no one could possibly find your online presence, think again. Almost everything posted on line is part of a digital popcorn trail leading the most casual searcher to that which you believe to be hidden or too obscure to find by anyone not specifically looking.
The vast majority of us travel through the digital world leaving our mark with little or no consideration as to what we leave behind for others to follow or what may come back to us at the most inopportune moment. Should you visit a Transgender website, a clothing e-tailer, SRS or other Trans-related medical information or physician’s website, your presence at each has been recorded and may revisit your computer. You are likely to be subjected to advertisements or invited to visit related web pages, most alarmingly during a shared computer session with a family member or loved one — or, perhaps, when the computer or digital device is used without you being present.
Additionally, do not discount the dangers of unauthorized web surfing at work on company time. Nearly all companies monitor the digital activities of their employees to some degree. Beyond the general prohibition by employers against personal use of the Internet on company time, most employers hire network security and monitoring firms to examine time spent on the Internet by employees, as well as the details of their activities — including online destinations and the content of personal e-mail. In the event you have visited any Trans-related websites and are not out at work, you can almost certainly assume that management is aware. Additionally, employers are increasingly apt to make hiring as well as retention decisions based upon your social media exploits and postings. Therefore, be sure to tread lightly in the digital world.
You would be wise to carefully consider each and every move you make with your digital presence. Don’t be outed unintentionally by yourself before you are ready to do so. Coming out and revealing your true-self gender identity is difficult enough when the information is disclosed on your timetable using information of your choosing. Do not surrender the control that you have in revealing your new life to sloppiness or a failure to be circumspect in your digital activities.
The safest general rule by which to live and operate on the Internet and in the digital realm is that if it is shared with one, it is shared with all. Do not post anything to the Internet: information, photos, associations, comments, etc. that you do not intend for everyone to see. Special considerations as mentioned previously apply to those not yet out, even restricting mere visits to certain web destinations. Before doing anything on or posting anything to the Internet, it is best to ask yourself one question; would I share this with everyone I know? If the answer to that question is not an unequivocal yes, it is probably best that you do not.