Breaking the Silence

A few months ago, I stopped posting new material on the blog. 

As a middle school teacher, I've always been aware that I'll have my fair share of fans and non-fans among my students. I've been fortunate in that for the most part, I seem to have good rapport with my classes.

A few months ago, though, two of my girls created a fake social media account in my name. To legitimize the account, they took pictures of me that I had posted online. They wrote captions to these photos in the first person. The vast majority of the information they posted was false.

A parent alerted me to the account. When I went to it, I was horrified - but not for the reasons I think most might assume. A middle school teacher has to have a thick skin, and although I was a little hurt personally, my mind immediately went to other things that were going on at that time:

  1. I was searching for a job. In this Internet era, I knew that potential employers were googling me and could find the account.
  2. My husband and I were in the middle of an adoption homestudy. We had signed paperwork promising to be honest about all aspects of our lives, and here was someone who looked like me revealing information (presumably about me) that went counter to what we were saying.

Needless to say, I took action immediately. Initially, I didn't know who created the account so I notified the authorities and the cybercrime department of the FBI. My main concern was getting the false information OFF the Internet as soon as possible. 

I believe that the girls meant no permanent harm. While I don't understand the appeal of playing a prank on someone 20 years your senior, I guess there just wasn't enough drama in their peer group - and that's not a bad thing. Better to go after a secure adult than to destroy the fragile self-esteem of a preteen or teen trying so desperately to be accepted. They admitted to a lapse in judgment, and I have no desire to make this about them.

The point is, I gained a new awareness about how vulnerable we make ourselves. Check it out yourself - are your Facebook pictures public? (The default setting for your profile pictures is public.) Then someone - and not necessarily a sworn enemy - could create an account that looks a lot like it belongs to you. What is placed online is NEVER truly gone - even if it is taken down. Even an immature friend (assuming you're an adult; my students were merely acting their age) doing something "for fun" could put up information that is damaging later.

Do your children have social media accounts? (What happened to me prompted a conversation about this at school.) Do they post their school name? Most of my students with Facebook accounts have chosen to "like" their school or otherwise identify themselves with it online. That, coupled with a photograph, makes them an easy target should someone decide to target them. (Granted, most people won't become targets. But you have to understand that it could happen.)

Do you ever plan to apply for a job? Think about what you post. Think about what you say about others. Don't generalize a people group. (Let me tell you, I have NEVER, EVER seen anyone write online, "people with cystinosis can't hold down a full-time job." But if I did, I'd call you on it immediately. Not just for myself, but for all those who may be googled at some point.) Also remember that while treatment might be dynamic, information posted online can be static - it isn't changed, and newer information won't necessarily trump older information in Google's search result list.

In hindsight, I wish I had written both my book and this blog using a pseudonym. I'm not naive enough to believe that doing such a thing would have left me truly anonymous, but it would have added an additional layer of protection.

But there are exciting things going on in life, and I want to share those things without hiding behind a mask. There is a delicate balance, and I am searching for it.

Until it is found,
Jessica