Recently, a friend in one of my social groups (call it Group A) told us that he and his partner are leaving the state and traveling to Far, Far Away so that he can become gainfully employed in his primary field of expertise. We were of course quite sad to see them go, and the appropriate words were said.
This friend, Fred, happens to operate an informal gaming club that meets monthly. Fred has passed the mantle of leading the club to a friend of his (who I don’t know), and this person is not part of Group A. That’s fine; although a lot of people in Group A attend the monthly club meetings, it’s not solely Group A people. Also, you should know that most people in Group A know each other by a pseudonym of some sort. Which kind of gives you an idea of where Group A’s interests lie.
Fred said that I should friend him on Facebook, and gave me his last name — which, for the sake of this article, let’s say is “Smith”. This morning, I found Fred on Facebook and sent him a friend request. He accepted it, and, as you do, I skimmed through his profile. It indicated that he is in a relationship with Wilma Jones (again, not using her real name). I know Wilma by her pseudonym, and while Fred introduced himself to me when we met as Fred, Wilma never told me her real name.
And that’s fine. I respect people’s rights to call themselves whatever they want, and I make the effort to pronounce said names correctly, as I did with my friend Dr. Kenneth Kao, whose last name isn’t pronounced phonetically. (Close, but not quite.)
When I last saw Fred and Betty (the name Wilma uses in Group A), I introduced them with those names to my friend Angel, who I invited to join our Group A Social Night while she was visiting.
But did Betty want me to know her real name was Wilma Jones? I mean, I didn’t know Fred’s last name was Smith until he told me, and I never asked because it wasn’t my business (just as he never knew my last name until I connected with him on Facebook). Maybe Wilma preferred to be known as Betty to everyone in Group A; maybe she didn’t know me well enough yet to trust me with her real first and last name. Or maybe Wilma trusts Fred to make informed decisions about who has this information about him (and, by extension, about her) because they have been partners for a few years and trust each other.
Now, to be honest, I’d never really thought about this aspect of social networking. I don’t really keep things super-separate. I mean, most of the people in Group A are super-nice, very friendly, and very welcoming. They certainly welcomed me, after all.
And then I realized something.
As I was doing research on Facebook to see how my profile appeared to Fred, I happened to notice that Fred had added me to the gaming club’s private discussion group, and I happened to see a face or two I recognized from Group A when I hit the group page.
Each face was accompanied by its owner’s real name.
I’m not That Guy. I’m not going to see that, for example, someone who goes by Dino The Dinosaur is really named Barney Rubble and works for a very prestigious law firm, and I’m not going to out Barney/Dino to his co-workers or friends. Why would I? Not only would that make me (even more of) an asshat, but it would also get me shunned from Group A and from the gaming club — both of which are positive things in my life. I’d lose contact with a lot of people I like, and I would find it quite hard to create those types of relationships again. Hell, it was hard enough for me to join Group A in the first place because — believe it or not — I’m quite shy.
But there’s a very high level of trust that goes with letting your social groups collide, especially in the internet age, especially when real names are involved, and especially when people in one social group value their privacy (for whatever reason). The gatekeeper of the social group that uses real names — in this case, the gaming club — has a lot of power. I trust Fred not to abuse that power; when I met him, he was in a position of leadership in Group A, and you don’t get there without the other folks knowing you pretty well. And I trust that the people Fred chose to put in charge of the gaming group are trustworthy as well. And, really, I don’t have that much to hide. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this article under my real name.
I just wonder how much thought goes into inviting people from a private group into a more public one. I wonder if Wilma even considered that now I know her real name (though I’ll only ever call her Betty until she reveals it to me). I wonder if other folks like Pebbles, Bam-Bam, Mr. Slate, The Great Gazoo, Pearl Slaghoople, and even Captain Caveman realize that now I can associate their real names with their photos. I’ll still call Bam-Bam Bam-Bam instead of Dallas Houston (not his real name), because, like I said, I’m not That Guy, but it’s something to consider when adding friends from your private social groups to places like Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Twitter.
Know what you’re sharing, and know who you’re exposing to your new friends. They may have different privacy concerns than you do, and Facebook… well, let’s just say that privacy is the last thing on their mind.