Ask Jules: What to keep private online


Hi Jules: How do you determine what parts of your life to keep private and what to publicly share online? — Instagram User

Instagram User: Defining “private” is a bit more complex today. Do you consider conversations in your DMs to be private? How about your close friend’s story on Instagram? Or posting on an account that is set to private and is followed only by people you have a level of trust with?

A few years ago, the writer Drew Olanoff stated that there is no such thing as private, only personal and public when it comes to sharing online.

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If you post to something like a private Instagram account, your intent is for that content to be consumed only by your current followers. But when something is posted online, it inherently enters a gray area. Anyone with access to it can save and share that information — making posting on a private account personal, and not private as labeled.

As platforms become increasingly focused on recommendation algorithms and putting your content in front of strangers, setting boundaries for what you want to be private (offline) vs. public only becomes more important.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is this something about which I’m open and comfortable to receive feedback? Does this invade the privacy of others? Did I fact-check this information? Do my intentions match my values? Is this something I’d be proud to look back on?

Some of these might seem intense, but self-reflection is essential in determining what you should keep private vs. make public. It helps you understand what gives you peace of mind and what you’re ultimately able to handle outside of that.

Ask Jules: I think my cousin’s kids spend too much time on screens

This kind of self-reflection is part of the reason we’ve seen more parents decide not to post about their kids, the rise of soft-launching significant others, and increased use of anonymous and pseudonymous accounts. All of these cultural shifts put an emphasis on privacy.

Outside of the obvious, like your address, phone number and financial information — there is no “one size fits all” answer for what should be private vs. public. Different people have different levels of comfort.

For example: You might have a friend who enjoys sharing their creative writing on TikTok. You might have another friend who finds that friend’s level of intimacy online to be terrifying, yet is unfazed getting into debates about sports on Twitter. You might find both of their approaches incomprehensible, as when you’ve shared your passions and opinions online in the past, a rude comment put you in a bad head space for weeks.

Ask Jules: I feel guilty I don’t share more on social media

You have to assess what is worth it for you by further asking:

What creates net positive value in my life? What won’t harm my relationships? What keeps my career in good standing? What will bring me opportunity rather than hinder it?

Aside from the initial nerves of sharing something publicly, if you feel a prolonged sense of uneasiness or lack of safety after doing so, keeping those things private in the future probably is best.

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