Safety seems to be a big concern for many translators considering building a profile online. Safety in two very different ways: in the sense that your computer and data remains protected, and also in the sense of keeping safe from stalkers and weirdos. There’s no denying that risk is inherent in everything we do – from going into business or delivering a job before we’ve gotten paid, to dialling up online and crossing the road. So how can we manage the risks of online participation in a way that enables us to most benefit from all the internet has to offer?
It seems a lot of people I talk to about this forget that it is their offline behaviours that have the most impact online, rather than the simple fact of just being online. Hopefully these tips will help inform translators on what they can do to feel safe and still participate online.
This is the second of two posts on online safety. Click here for the first one.
Personal safety online
It’s easy to find horror stories linking online participation and gruesome threats to one’s personal safety, particularly if you’re a woman. But I’ve found it’s not so easy to find unbiased, practical information on how to prevent yourself being exposed to more risk than you would be in any other sphere of life.
Regardless of how active you are online, if you’ve been carrying out a professional activity for any length of time, then there’s a good chance that there’s more information about you in the public domain than you may realise. And this this day and age, anything that’s in the public domain is likely to be accessible online too.
I think all professionals should be proactive caretakers of their online presence, so they can exercise control over their information and decrease any risk to themselves in the process. Here are some thoughts and tips on how to do just that:
1. Know what’s out there
Google your name, including any variations or nicknames, and see what information is already online. Try this on other search engines too. Track right through to the end of the search results to make sure you’re not missing anything. This is also a good way of ensuring your name is not being used online without your knowledge. If you’ve been active online for some time, carry out a regular spring clean. Close down any profiles you don’t use, unlist from any directories you don’t want to be listed on, or request that a page be removed from search results, if appropriate.
2. A translator by any other name…
There’s a definite tension between remaining anonymous online in the interest of safety, while still putting your name out there to market yourself as a professional. Only you can decide whether it’s worth revealing your real name online.
The first factor to consider is what you hope to achieve through your online participation. If your primary aim is to connect with people you know already, learn new things, or keep up-to-date on developments, then using an alias may have little professional impact. But if your aim is to use the internet to full effect to market yourself or your services, then there’s a very good chance that your name will have to feature as part of that. This is because authenticity, transparency and personality are key to online promotion, and it’s difficult to communicate these values if you don’t appear prepared to “own” your actions online. It’s difficult – but it’s certainly not impossible.
I blogged anonymously when I first started out, so I do think working under a pseudonym is an option worth exploring. However there have been some high-profile cases of people who adopted pseudonyms (for a host of different reasons) and were caught out. So if you decide to go down this route, give careful thought to how you see yourself maintaining your façade and how it will fit in with your long-term professional goals, because a big reveal could prove damaging to your reputation in the long run.
3. Return to sender
If you work from home, and your home is your business’s official place of work, how prepared are you to reveal your address online? This question usually rears its ugly head in the context of Contact pages on professional websites. (Although if you are legally required to include your address on your website, then this is effectively a non-issue. You just do it.)
If it’s not a legal requirement, and you are weighing up the pros and cons, a visible address online is certainly likely to add to your credibility. But to what degree this really matters depends on your potential clients, how likely they are to base their decision to work with you on your website, and how likely they are to contact a service provider with no fixed address online. There’s also the convenience factor of having your contact details to hand for existing clients or colleagues, although someone else’s convenience isn’t the most compelling argument when it comes to safety.
These days I list a post-office box as my address for several reasons, not least because I don’t consider my current residence to be a permanent one. And although I’m under no illusion as to how easy it would be to figure out where I do actually live, I still feel that little bit safer using a PO box (although strangely enough, I had no qualms about revealing my address when I lived in London).
4. Tread lightly
It’s probably not ideal to tell people when you’re leaving your house for a few hours, for example, yet this is common practice on Twitter. And how not to reveal when you’re going on holidays? Again, the lines between online and off are blurred here because many of us use office auto-responders which effectively broadcast this information anyway. I think the answer here is primarily what you are comfortable with.
The most important thing you can do is make the time to learn the privacy settings for the sites on which you have a profile. Many users complain about a lack of privacy, but then leave their information open for all to see by not using the full suite of tools available to them. You can usually individualise your degree of openness, from completely open to highly restricted to people you elect on an individual basis.
Always check out what options are available to you to block or ignore other users. If there is someone who won’t leave you alone, is inflammatory or just plain irritating, don’t hesitate to block or ignore them. (Here are some good tips on dealing with trolls, more generally. Rest assured that they are very, very common). Keep in mind too that that person won’t necessarily know or even care that you’ve blocked them – this is one area where social media trumps real life.
If you’re still concerned about your safety, or have reason to take a more full-on approach, this website has some very detailed information on making yourself invisible online and off.