The Unquiet Librarian
BY VIRGINIA ROBERTS
Rhinelander District Library Director
Special to the Star Journal
This is a cautionary tale in which we all learn something about privacy and the internet…
If you use any kind of electronics, engage in email, social media, or just log into a public wifi system, there are no guarantees. None. How do I know? I know because I’ve watched as someone grabbed my email password as I was typing it into my laptop at a coffee shop in Madison. I know because I have helped more than one patron contact their email provider when they unintentionally gave out information compromising a credit card or locking up email so it could be used for nefarious purposes. I know because of the occasional pirate software that screams call this 1-800 number so “they and only they can fix your computer” at librarians and patrons alike. And then there are regular alerts regarding hacking, phishing, and software updates to close potential gaps. My library colleagues and I know how to avoid most pitfalls and are happy to show you how—but family? You cannot hide from them.
The screenshot accompanying, shows my brother, who unable to find my page, found me on the Rhinelander District Library page, where I am an administrator. And as you can see, he says “Hey”. This is typical of our interactions over the years. Happily, I imagined him the way he’s always been, unacquainted with technology, circa late 20th Century.
Until now. Until some mutual delinquent childhood chum from our past (I’m looking at you, Billy) probably said—“Your sister is some hot mess on Facebook—you should really friend her!” No doubt, Billy likely said just that; and I have no doubt it was Billy who said it. I know all this and more because my brother’s page is not at all secured, and Billy, for now, is his only Facebook friend. And I am going to get him for this—but not just this. The following day, probably after my brother mentioned to mom he’d found me on Facebook, posts exactly what she asked him to.
This is when it gets truly ugly. Read it. Just read it. Now, who in the world would not like to see such a loving message from their dear, aged mother?
I do, just not in public and certainly not on the Rhinelander District Library Facebook page. Where. I. Work.
It is the psychological equivalent of having your mother spit-clean you with a tissue in public. And I had a very human reaction. I told them to not to contact me here—and then, being one of the administrators on the page, hid the whole thing, but not before taking this screenshot.
On the other hand, this situation amuses me to absolutely no end. When I told my children and husband about it, the mix of horror and hilarity was likely heard all the way to the Outer Banks and back. You see, the kids learned about internet safety and privacy from me. As did five years of students I taught, classes of adults, and anyone who has bothered to read the social media policies I wrote at the church I attended, or the libraries I have worked. I wrote the policies. The policies meant to keep everyone safe and information private.
So, other than a reminder I should definitely call my mother more often, what does this mean?
It means there are ground rules in all electronic communications. The first is nothing is ever totally private—at home, work, or school. There is always someone who can see it. Most services are apparently free, so at the very least, they are mining your data. Or, as I say, shop online for one pair of boots (without cleaning out your computer cookies) and said boots will follow you everywhere your computer goes—every email account, social media platform, and website you visit.
Second, if someone mentions they’ve been hacked? Believe them with the care and vigilance you would as if cyclone of scorpions was released into your house. If it’s true, whoever hacked in may never get to you—or they might call and email you with messages such as your friend is in jail and needs help—or they need your password for something—or your credit card information—and they might know just enough to get it from you.
Thirdly, only friend people you know. I have broken this rule at least sixty (or more) times for video gaming purposes. So as a codicil to this: use your privacy settings for good. Limit who can see what things and where. Or, as I used to tell children who went online into a virtual game: they aren’t all your age, some are not even kids, some aren’t there to play, don’t friend them, and don’t tell them anything! So, if you’re posting photos of your new baby or your grandkid’s soccer match—you might want to limit who can see those so they don’t get used in ways you might have never have imagined. Or, don’t post them at all. The younger generation might thank you for not violating their privacy before they had a chance to do so themselves. Unlike Las Vegas, what goes on the web—stays on the web, frequently in public, following you around forever. And as my formerly Luddite brother has just proved; if it’s out there they will find it.
Have tech questions, need tech advice? Make a tech appointment Tuesdays and Thursdays 9-11 a.m. at the Rhinelander District Library. Or just stop by. We can help. And don’t worry. If you’re careful, and use common sense, your personal stuff will remain private. Just not from family.