If there is one personal lesson we've all learned from the recent NSA scandal, it's that nothing on the Internet is truly private. Who Learned It The Hardest? That would pretty obviously be Edward Snowden's girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. On top of having the NSA paw through her Gchats, Facebook, Skype conversations, etc., (just like the rest of us!), she's also currently having every bit of her online presence examined in depth by countless blogs and media outlets.
Adding impetus to this gleeful invasion of her pseudo-privacy is the fact that she's a pole-dancing acrobat with a dramatic blog. Lindsay Mills is the Internet hive-mind's platonic dream of someone to investigate with the full force of its fascination, schadenfreude, and (perhaps) begrudging admiration.
I think it's safe to assume that if Lindsay Mills had known that the entire Internet would be poring over her digital trail, she would have tended to it at least a little bit. While everyone has a basic understanding that nothing publicly shared on the Internet is under their control, it's easy to overlook the implications of that. Like, for instance, one time LinkedIn told me that my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend was looking at my profile, and I then Googled myself and realized that she was also probably watching the Vine I took of my rabbit gnawing on a tampon while sitting in her squalid litter box. Mentally multiplying that horror by millions, I am 100% certain that, put in Ms. Mills' place, I would vanish into the forest and hope that a family of noble deer would adopt me as their own.
The truth of the matter is that none of us know whether or not we are dating a secret whistle-blower. Even if you happen to be single, you may be dating a secret whistle-blower so skilled at his craft that you have yet to become aware of his/her existence. Therefore, we all must take pains to clean up our Internet trails — just in case! Here's a primer on how to cultivate an incredibly media-friendly online presence without sharing too much:
STEP 1: DELETE ALL SOURCES OF SHAME
If, like me, you insist on taking Vines of your pet chewing on sanitary supplies, make sure that your account is private. Track down your Xanga from 10th grade and eliminate it. Even if you've forgotten about that weddings Pinterest board you obsessively and covertly updated over the span of three weeks, all those curious little cretins prowling cyberspace won't. Everything must go.
STEP 2: PICK A MEDIA-FRIENDLY ARCHETYPE
Nothing eggs on a cyberbully like earnest, enthusiastic pride in one's own private life. "#LovingLife," you may foolishly tweet in the throes of a blissful moment, and the Internet will respond, "UGH GO DIE!!!!!!! YOU ARE BENEATH CONTEMPT YOU LITTLE SHIT RAG!!!!!" If you say, "I'm happy with my boyfriend and my career and I love to take hikes," the Internet will probably say,"YOU ARE UGLY AND YOUR CAREER IS STUPID AND I HATE YOUR SMUG INSTAGRAM OF THE MOUNTAINTOP."
Thus, it's important to stick with an online persona that works. Think of it as sort of inverse Catfishing: you can use all of your own information and photos, but instead of your real personality (i.e., the woman who once ate a hot dog bun out of a trash can during a party because there weren't any snacks) you should use one that is better and cooler and crowd-pleasing.
Here are suggested personae:
- The Cool and Fun Socialite Who Actually Looks Ok in a Fedora: It's hard to disparage a young woman's life if she actually looks good in a fedora. Plus, if you gird yourself with social capital (tons of Instagram followers! Party pix in exclusive locations!), none of those nerds will be able to question your worth as a human being. Right?
- The Intellectual Who Knows Stuff About #Art and #Culture: If you know a lot about art and stuff, then no one can make fun of you because you're automatically smarter than they are. Cultivate a Twitter feed where you RT Artforum a lot and say things like "Contemplating my own subjectivity #TransientOrPermanent" and "going to the opera #highbrow #me".
- The Free Spirit With a NSFW Blog: If you're going to go for this, you need to truly go for it. You need to lead the kind of life in which people always say to you, "You are such a Jessa from Girls!" and you reply, "What is Girls?" while one of your breasts casually pops out of your silk kimono. Start a travel blog that's composed entirely of pictures of you, like, sniffing glue with an industrial band in Berlin or doing the conga with a row of strippers dressed as Obama at one of Berlusconi's parties. When you read headlines that say "NSA Leaker's Girlfriend Has Hideously Depraved Travel Blog," reply, "What is the NSA?" as you run your fingers through the fur of your pet feral rat.
- The Ironic and Self-Deprecating Funny One: If you're ironic and hugely self-deprecating, the hoards of mean spirited people on the Internet will automatically like you and also be unable to mock you themselves. Make your profile picture on every social media network a photo of you making a double chin. Change your Facebook work information to "Fart King at Unemployed".
- The Womyn Who Runs Her Own Steampunk Etsy Store: Steampunks are really popular on the 'Net, I think, so you could go with that. Also "NSA Informant's Girlfriend Owns Steampunk Etsy Store" is a really boring headline.
- The Loose Cannon: Delete all of your social media accounts, except for an Instagram that's comprised solely of the same photograph of your completely expressionless face. After a while, the image should pan out and reveal that you're wearing a shirt with the same photo of your face on it.
STEP 3: DON'T GET CAUGHT OFF GUARD
Another major narrative in the media is that Lindsay Mills is "lost at sea," having been completely caught off guard by Edward Snowden's decision to leak the NSA documents and flee the country. You need to get in front of this story and kill it before everyone latches their shriveled, pitying claws into it. Write a blog entry titled "I Know ALL About That Thing My Boyfriend Is Going To Do." Make sure to mention that you are the opposite of lost and also definitely on firm ground. End it with this emoticon: "Feeling: In The Know B-)".
Alternatively, we could all take it upon ourselves to strive not to scrutinize, criticize, judge, deride, and/or share with strangers the digital lives of others (those strange quasi-existences that hover at the meeting place of public, private, and performance). Basically everyone seems like a complete asshole on the Internet in their own, special way — whether it's by taking hundreds of selfies in their underwear, humblebragging, trying too hard to be witty, making use of the ABC Family-mandated hashtags during Pretty Little Liars, videotaping their pet rabbit engaging in idiotically mundane activities at least once a day, etc. LET S/HE WHO IS WITHOUT INTERNET SHAME CAST THE FIRST STONE.
Or we could all just open steampunk Etsy shops of our own.