Setting Boundaries: Just How Personal Should You Get Online?


In some ways, you are your blog. Who you are as a person – your likes, your dislikes, your loves and hates – is integral to what you write about and the part of your personality you show online (this is part of why criticism stings so much). Because we put so much of ourselves into our blogs, it can be hard to set boundaries. And while sharing your authentic self is important to blogging success, it's just as important to set good boundaries.Without boundaries, it's too easy to burnout, to overshare, or to simply to say something you'll later regret. But how can you tell when “far” is too far? And what sorts of things should keep you in mind when you're considering opening up?

  • Remember that once it's out there, you can't take it back. I'll repeat: once it's out there, you can't take it back. This mantra applies to photos, blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates – you name it. Once it goes online, the possibility is always there that it will come back to haunt you. In so many words, if you have any reservations about sharing something, I believe in erring on the side of less instead of more. You can always open up a little further, but it's hard to take things back once they've been said or done. In addition, be proactively aware of any consequences, both positive and negative. If you're worried about your future employability, for example, that may affect what you post and don't post. Please believe I'm not here to set any rules about what you should and shouldn't do, but thinking ahead helps to keep you from being blindsided and unprepared. Whatever you share, be okay with it floating out there forever.
  • Only share things you are comfortable with people talking about. That includes negative talk. If you know a nasty comment about a personal story would wound you to the core and make you rethink this whole blogging thing, you may not want to share that story. I'm not saying bloggers should give in to bullies or trolls or that bloggers are in any way responsible for nasty behavior from people determined to be nasty. Unfortunately, though, nastiness is a part of the internet landscape, so every blogger has to be honest with his or herself about their tolerance for it. If sharing something private and having someone do the internet equivalent of laughing in your face about it would bother you, it may be better not to share.
  • Remember that not everyone is your friend. This is a natural continuation from point #2, but it's easy to forget sometimes. You'll have a great run of positive comments and awesome tweets, and then someone will come ‘out of the blue,' so to speak, and say something terrible…sometimes just to see if they can get a rise out of you. In addition, there's always the the possibility your photo or something you say could wind up on a site you really don't want to be on. I know bloggers who've had their photos used for porn sites, escort sites, and fetish sites…all without their permission. I even know one person who had her photo used to illustrate the story of a mass murderer! None of this is the fault of these individuals, of course, and I'm not saying this frighten you. However the risks are out there, and being aware is being prepared.
  • Be careful about sharing other people's lives on your blog without their permission. Boundaries aren't just about you, they're also about the people closest to you. Be careful when sharing photos of friends, family members, children or (heaven forbid) random strangers. Make sure those people are okay with being a part of your blogging life. To illustrate, I don't share any photos of my husband anywhere without making sure he's okay with it first. After all, he didn't exactly sign up to this blogging thing. You never want the people in you life to feel like they've been taken advantage of, taken by surprise, or had their privacy violated due to your blog. A few “likes” on a post just isn't worth it.
  • Please be safe. I want to phrase this carefully, because this is an issue that I know several bloggers have encountered. Please be careful with sharing the details of your comings and goings on your blog or social media platforms. People who want to do you harm physically, psychologically, or otherwise are a threat no blogger likes to think about, but it's a threat that's unfortunately very, very real. I want to emphasize that it is never the fault of the victim when she's being assaulted, harassed, threatened, or stalked. No one can do anything to “ask” for that. But please be aware that, as I said above, some of your readers are not your friends and that someone may be looking for a crime of opportunity or for a means to feel powerful…and you may be that opportunity or that means. When it comes to the intimate details of your life, sometimes less really is more.

What's your advice for setting boundaries online? Do you have tips or stories to share? Let's make this post a resource for everyone.


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7 Responses

  1. Nasreen

    I don’t really have an actual story to share but I do think it’s important to set boundaries. I especially have to keep the first point in mind, it’s easy to forget that just because you delete something, doesn’t mean that it’s actually GONE. It’s upsetting but true. Moreover, I like that point about business because sometimes I’ll be writing something but have to think twice because my blog is MY brand and if I’m referring my blog to potential employers, then hopefully, it should not reflect badly on me or give a bad impression just because one one post.

    • Cora Harrington

      Great points! Your blog can definitely help you find a job, but it can just as easily be a hindrance. Being aware of the potential consequences of what you post is part of being a good blogger…even if you decide to not change what you’re posting at all.

  2. Amanda Aguirre

    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve mentioned. This is why I usually don’t post personal content, although sometimes I wish I did. I don’t post about my job because of confidentiality reasons. I don’t post pictures of where I live, not that it’s great or anything, but you just never know, and I always make sure that if I’m posting pictures about my friends and family, that they know it’s going to be out there. As far as being thick skinned, I think it’s something that ALL bloggers need to have. Not just bloggers but people in general. Not everyone is going to be your friend, not everyone is going to like you, and I’m okay with that because I’m usually a dick anyway, but some people don’t realize that. The Internet, just like the world, isn’t all sunshine and daisies.

    • Cora Harrington

      Yup! 100% agree with you when it comes to posting photos of friends/family and about the necessity of a thick skin. It’s hard sometimes (most people aren’t too keen on being disliked) but necessary all the same. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Ais

    You can post something personal about your plans to travel or where you’re going to be–e.g. “I’m visiting NYC this week!” without giving specific details like “and I’ll be at X shop at Y time”. Mentioning the city you live in is fine if it’s a larger city, for people in a very small town it might not be wise, though you could say something like “Tinyville”, “Smallburg” or “Dot on the map” and then your state. No need to go into specifics, your safety should always be a priority.

    With that said, even if you don’t give specifics, if someone wants to find you they might be able to do so all the same, but there’s no reason to make it easy on them.

    As for the trolls; comment moderation and blocking people on social media is part of the game. When a troll–and I consider people who have nothing constructive to say while trying to tear someone down just that–realizes that they can’t “get at you” anymore, odds are they’ll move on. That, or you can get into it with them, but 99.9% of the time I’d just say ignore it and focus on the good stuff.

  4. aly

    My brand, blog, and social media is under my ‘govt name’ which is why I dont use 4square and blog about vacations/trips/being away from home until after it has happened. I also use fake names when referencing friends.