Stoffa: Be careful what you say, you never know who is listening


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Don’t have conversations in public that could get you in trouble. You never know who may be listening.

Gabriel Stoffa

Most folks are getting the idea now that writing anything and everything you might think on your Facebook wall is not the best of ideas if you don’t want everyone to know about it.

But what about in real life, what about the things you say in passing?

A few days ago I was on CyRide after my office hours — I am a teaching assistant in the political science department — and when I get on the bus, if it isn’t terribly full, I like to sit in the back.

For some reason, people toward the back of the bus tend to be more talkative than those in the front. And on this particular occasion, some students in the back were being very open with their speech.

Their topic? Cheating.

I was reading news on my robot phone and seated directly next to two of the students. I watched one of them look at me, then look around, then begin talking to his friends about who they were cheating off of for their exam.

I have to assume that they simply didn’t think I was a “threat” to their questionable ethical exploits — my friends tell me I dress like a drug dealer, which I assume means eclectic — because the students openly discussed enough details that I could figure out what type of course it was, what time the class was, what their preferred cheating method was, how they would cheat differently next time and even their first names.

It could simply be that they were joking, and I’m certain that is what they would claim were they confronted, but the topic is still not something to be discussed in public.

Incidents like that have happened to me, and I assume many others, quite often. It happens at bars, restaurants, house parties, tailgating, on the bus, walking around in a store; basically anywhere particular people congregate.

The topics are everything from cheating on tests to buying drugs. It is amazing how often people will “name-drop” in order to make a conversation more interesting, not realizing that their “dealer” would likely be pretty annoyed if they knew their name and even descriptions of their home or amount of product was being casually referenced.

With all this in mind, going back to the students on the bus, you never know who is sitting next to you and who might overhear.

There are a lot of cops out there that don’t remotely resemble cops when they are out of uniform. There are many professors that dress down, or don’t dress up in the first place, that go to bars or ride the bus and can easily overhear what you say.

The point is, you need to be cautious about what you say in public. The same rules that apply online apply to real life: If you don’t want someone you don’t know to know something about you, don’t talk about it in a public forum.

I didn’t turn in the students for their possible cheating, I have my own  ethical compass; that and their conversation led me to believe they all cheated off the wrong exam and did rather poorly anyway. But I’m not others.

You never know when there is an authority figure around to overhear your questionable activities. And you had better believe that it isn’t hard to discern specific enough details about what you say to determine locations and people involved.

And just in case you don’t think random people listen to what you and your buddy are talking about, think again. It isn’t that people are necessarily “creeping,” but a juicy bit of gossip peaks folks’ interest nearly anywhere you go, and you cannot not hear what is being said a couple feet from you.

Maybe you like running the risk of getting caught, maybe you just don’t think what you say can get you in trouble, but I’m telling you now, be careful about who you say things around and what you talk about publicly. Near-on everyone partakes in some illicit activities on a regular basis and ends up telling others.

I know it is depressing to think in such an Orwellian fashion, but the stranger sitting near you might just be someone in a position to get you into trouble or willing to report you. A lot of folks will squeal for profit, from pressure or just because they have a certain sense of duty or morals.

You have been warned.