When the Lines Between the Private and Public Blur

By now, you probably have all heard of the Joseph Kony social media campaign and the unfortunate public breakdown of its creator, Jason Russell.

I’ve watched the Kony 2012 YouTube video, and it is among the more brilliant pieces of viral media I’ve ever seen. You probably have, too: over 80 million people have viewed it. While the video meant to shine the spotlight on Kony and his evil reign of terror (including enslaving children to become soldiers and a lot of other atrocities), it attracted a lot of criticism too. There was talk that the short film was oversimplifying the political situation in Uganda, that Kony was not even the biggest problem in the region (preventable diseases are) and there were some skeptical reports of Russell’s foundation and the way they spent money.

Because Russell involved his own personal story in the video (how he met a victim of Kony’s, a former child soldier years ago and promised him he’d do something about Kony, the birth of his son, his son’s reaction to being told what Kony had done) he (indadvertedly, I think) made himself into a sort of bulls-eye target for skeptics and detractors.

According to his wife, the pressure and criticism really bothered him, to the point where he suffered from “reactive psychosis”.

The whole thing is unsettling to me, as an ALI blogger. My real name is associated with this site, and I have put myself out there as an advocate with the Faces of ALI series. The reason I attached my real name was because I was certain I was strong enough to withstand criticism from the outside world, and I was uniquely positioned to do so, being a SAHM with a supportive family. And I still feel that way. But there is a kind of dread attached to going really viral, like the KONY campaign. I have not yet received that mean comment from someone outside the ALI community. I know that day will come.

What I think surprised me recently is the fact that people within your own cause are not always 100% percent aligned. This makes perfect sense in retrospect. (Of course all individuals have their own unique viewpoint). To be honest, I don’t know much about advocating at all. I’ve never really had a cause to fight for, other than working on political campaigns, which is different than blogging for a cause. I had never told my personal story and connected it to a public problem.

Really, it was something in Harry Potter that spoke deeply enough to me when I was going through infertility and my miscarriages and moved me to advocate. I have always admired bravery more than any other trait, like I suspect Rowling does, probably because a lot of things scare me. In the end, I liked the lesson that Neville Longbottom, who’s kind of shy and timid like me, can be helpful to a cause and his friends simply by putting himself out there and standing up for his beliefs. He chooses to do that, it’s not like he’s an adrenaline seeker. (Like I kind of think Harry is. At least, that’s how I see him sometimes.) He chooses to do it, even though it makes him uncomfortable.

But I so totally, totally understand why so many of you choose not to (and in many cases have no choice at all due to relatives, work, friends, religious institutions, etc) and the last couple of weeks has really gotten me thinking about advocate blogging and the issues involved.

What do you think? Do you think it’s dangerous to mix the personal with the private while blogging for a cause?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “When the Lines Between the Private and Public Blur

  1. Ohhh good question! Unfortunately, I do think it’s a little dangerous. It sucks that it’s that way, but I think it is regardless. We’ve seen time and time again some very noble advocates be brought down with criticism from others and they don’t typically stop at attacking the person’s stance on certain issues… but they become personal attacks on a person’s character. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but I think it’s whats so. I also greatly admire those who choose to stand anyways and speak on their beliefs (as you do), but I don’t always have the courage to do so myself. I will on a personal level but I shy away from more grand statements when I’m not sure I can handle the opposite attacks.

  2. I think there are different ways to advocate for a cause. I am fairly open about our infertility at work and with friends. I think of it as a way to raise public awareness, even if it’s only within my circle. Who knows? Someone I have a conversation with might take what they learned into another circle of friends, and so on. I think it’s the same with my blog. I blog anonymously, but whenever I see that someone found my blog by some random search term, I think, “Well, that person clearly didn’t find what they were looking for, but maybe they learned something.” I’m not afraid of being attacked personally, either at work or on my blog, although it could happen. Many times those attacks come from ignorance, which is what I’m trying to fight, in my own little way, by being as open as I can about our situation.

  3. I’ve always thought that I’d love to make my significant contribution to mankind (one can dream a bit) behind the scenes. Things like fame and public scrutiny make me cringe. It’s true, your openness with this blog is brave. I admire all of you who put so much out there without the protection of anonymity – and, I so sincerely hope that it will never come to anything so difficult for you.

  4. My blog, is private. A few people who read it know me IRL, but no friends/family (excepting one college acquaintance) have been invited to read it. With my attempt to come out a bit on F-B and post some things about infertility I endured a pretty bad backlash. So, I’d rather keep the blog away from them. Weird how strangers offer the most support of my journey and my supposed friends turned against me when I bared my soul.

  5. I also don’t know how to advocate for a cause and don’t feel like I yet have that one cause that I want to pursue. I’m sure it will find it’s way to me eventually.

    I also feel fear putting my name on my work and putting it out there. I say it’s because I have middle school students who would cyber-stalk me and use my most personal details against me, but really I would be worried to put myself out there, so raw and naked, even if I didn’t have to worry about my students. It’s a hard thing to do. It makes us vulnerable. And I can understand your concern and hesitation surrounding that.

  6. Mel

    I think it’s impossible to speak up, whether it’s at a very local level or at a viral-across-the-world level, and not be personally, emotionally affected. In both good ways and bad ways. We wouldn’t want to go without the good feelings that come from a job well done, but unfortunately, in taking those, you also sometimes need to take the terrible feelings that come with backlash. I think even if Russell had never put his name on it, never appeared in the video, he would still be having the same reaction. It can be difficult to read about yourself.

    I feel for Russell. I think everyone wishes for their work to go viral, but few can truly grasp what that means until it happens. Sure, a lot of eyes on your work sounds good in theory. But there are so many drawbacks to a viral post, video, etc.

  7. EmHart

    I think I stay anonymous at the moment because in some ways I don’t feel I have the right to stand up put myself out there as infertile. I have only been on this journey since last summer and so, despite our diagnosis, I feel like people in the real world would feel I was complaining about nothing. I don’t know yet how long this process is going to take but I imagine if it lasted for long enough I would feel the need to go out into the world and talk about it openly as myself. This is a hard question and so personal. I also feel that there are so many women who have been through so much more than me that they are who’s stories need to be heard.

  8. The internet is a scary place for me. I had a post on a new blog (about Penn State) go *somewhat* viral (really only 28,000 hits, but that was WAYYYY more than I had ever gotten on my Serenity Now! site!), and for 24 hours I was really worried about all the personal information I had shared on my site. And I can’t really go back to that blog because OMG who is reading? I don’t KNOW them like I know my ALI readers.

    Do I think I’d go psychotic? No. But the internet is WAY bigger than is comfortable for me. So I really feel for Russell, though truthfully I didn’t even know what Kony 2012 was until recently.

  9. I read yesterday what he most recently got arrested for, and my heart went out to him immediately. It’s such a shame that that happens, I wonder to which extent it happened before all of this internet craziness was around. I guess it was impossible for things to viral before internet, but I wonder what it looked like “back then.”

    As you know, I do put my name on my blog and on occasions have used my full name…but every time I see it, I feel naked and exposed, but I think to an extent you have to feel that way if you want to really make a difference. Because once you put a face and name to a condition or cause, it makes it more real. But I do think that it’s still possible to advocate from an anonymous standpoint, for sure. I think this community is proof of that. Except, I do wonder how much of it (in general, anonymous and naked) reaches beyond our community.

  10. I was semi-anonymous on my now-defunct IF blog and told almost no one IRL about it b/c it was my space to vent and write dark things. At the same time, I was in grad school and taking classes on online social networks, privacy, etc. When I lumbered out of my cave last year and started re-engaging in the blogosphere, I was shocked at the unbelievably personal information and total lack of anonymity in the blogosphere. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to give up my semi-anonymity on my blog, especially since I have an unusual name. I can’t rely on my name to provide me any protection.

    Ultimately I decided to go for it and claim my space as myself. I haven’t received a dissenting or nasty comment yet, and I’m sure I will eventually. I think that what it comes down to for me is that if it’s a cause I believe in strongly enough to advocate for, I owe it to the cause and anyone I hope to convince or inform to sign it with my name. I think putting yourself out there in any context carries the risk that your personal life could be dragged into it. In some ways I welcome that because it’s part of the audience being able to make an informed decision on your authenticity and believability; it adds more context.

    As far as Russell himself, I think the problem was that he was almost too close to his cause, and it colored how he put the video together. As a result, he didn’t consider how an objective look at the facts compared to what he saw as reality could open him up to criticism. I feel sorry for him, though.

  11. Kat

    The Kony2012 video itself was unsettling for me, and I almost wonder if Russell was heading for some kind of breakdown anyway, and the reaction to the video was just the thing the brought it on. That said, I do feel bad for him in the sense that, I believe he is a good person with good intentions, but perhaps the execution was misguided and, as often happens, idealism hit up against reality and, well, I think most of us know what it feels like when you can’t fight reality.

    I think ALI bloggers who use their real names are incredibly brave, and I am grateful for the bloggers who have the courage to do so. I don’t have that courage. I wish we lived in a world where some of us didn’t feel like we had to blog about IF anonymously, or hide our struggles. I wish there wasn’t so much judgement of us out there. I know that it takes more of us coming forward and putting names and faces to our stories, but, like I said, at this point in time I just don’t have it in me to do that myself.

  12. Pingback: Who’s Reading Anyway? |

  13. I am just reading this now, but blogged this morning on the same topic. I have no answers. Like Esperanza, I am a teacher and the idea of students/parents finding out is what holds me back. But I am feeling a big pull to come out….no easy answers. Great post.

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