After reading several articles about the risks of social media, and in particular, about the risks of allowing too much personal or controversial material to infiltrate your social media presence, I’m feeling somewhat devil’s advocate about the whole idea of keeping your online brand perfectly sanitary. For example, in the article “7 Risks of Social Media”, the author advises that social media users “keep controversial content away from your personal profiles” in order to avoid the possibility that you will offend someone in your network.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree that this advice is perfectly logical, and I am generally fairly cautious about what I post online. My online presence tends to focus on certain topics that I am passionate about, like feminism, health, and literature. I know that nothing is truly private and that a misstep online can hurt your bottom line whether you’re self-employed, or work for a large corporation. I am in no way advocating that people should freely post graphic material or hate speech.
If apparent authenticity is one of the aims of personal online branding, then can there not be room once in a while for something that seems a little off-brand? In a world where the term “curation” has become ubiquitous, must we always self-censor online? Having recently read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the lesson in a (certain) number of cases seems to be that problems arise when people try to hide the aspects of their lives that are deemed controversial. If you’re open and unashamed (and are wealthy enough to ride out the storm), then it can be harder for people to fault you for your convictions.
As I said in my introduction on the class discussion board, my social media use is fairly limited – Facebook, Instagram, following people on Twitter, etc. I have a number of coworkers and former coworkers on Facebook, as well as extended family. I don’t allow everyone in my network to access to everything I’ve posted or been tagged in, but I block fairly little. If someone in my network cares to scroll through all of the photos I’ve been tagged in over the years, they will see a good number where I have a drink in hand and a bit of a sloppy look on my face. They might also see some decidedly partisan posts. And I’m (mostly) okay with that. I am a human being with a life outside of work. If employers and consumers really do value “authenticity”, then surely they realize that a squeaky-clean social media presence might just mean that you’re very good at covering your tracks? A photo catalogue of a few drunken parties does not mean you’re a less than ideal job candidate.
Then again, maybe I’m just not a very controversial person, and posts that I might consider borderline acceptable to my nascent brand really aren’t that bad compared to what others have done (e.g. the members of the Dalhousie dentistry Facebook group who participated in truly offensive discussions about their female peers). Also, there’s probably an argument to be made for the fact that I’m pretty settled in my career now, and that – while I’m a millennial- I’m old enough that I didn’t live my life through social media when I was starting out in the professional world, so my employers were able to judge me more-or-less only on my CV and the word of my references.
I’d be curious to know what some of the younger members of this course have to say about this last point. At what age now would you say the idea of online personal curation becomes ingrained? How does your presence evolve when you grow up on social media and then enter the professional world? When the personal is tied to the professional, how can we enjoy the possibilities afforded by social media?