A Reflection on Authenticity

By Kathryn Magura

I talk a lot about authenticity. To me, a core tenant of a person’s integrity is reflected in their authenticity. Authenticity in who they are at home, at work, with friends, and most importantly when no one else is watching.

I am also a big fan of most social media platforms. I am frequently an early adopter for new social media options, and love being able to connect with people all over the world around common topics. That said, I think people quickly forget their authenticity when provided the opportunity to hide behind social media and the internet.

A few months ago I wrote about why I think Student Affairs professionals should care about Gamer Gate. There is sadly a lot of evidence on how women are treated deplorably online in ways men are not. Heck, the actress Ashley Judd made news recently about how her Twitter bullies had gotten so bad, she was seeking legal options.

Back in the world of Student Affairs, there was a lot of discussion last week, lead in part by this post by my co-editor Niki, about the dark side of Student Affairs professionals who hid behind the anonymity of the social media platform Yik Yak at the recent NASPA conference.

What is it about social media and the internet that allows people to think they can say what they want without consequences online? Where is intent vs. impact in the thought process? Would you say the things you say online (anonymous or not) to someone’s face?

Those who know me well have heard me say that I try to always be my authentic self online. If you look at my Twitter feed, or see what I post on Facebook or Instagram, you see the real me. If I ever feel that I am misrepresenting who I am as a person, I will part ways with that social media platform.

We talk a lot about digital identity and how your online presence follows you everywhere. How help people see that authenticity matters in the digital world too?

If you aren’t sure if you should post about that event, or make that comment about someone’s photo, try this tip I learned from my colleague in student conduct: Think about whether you would say those things if your grandmother was watching. If the answer is yes, proceed. If the answer is no… well, turn off the damn computer.

A Reflection on Authenticity

The Importance of Authenticity Online

by Kristen Abell

Recently, I’ve been struggling with this idea of being authentic online – not because I think I’m not authentic, but because I know for a fact that there is someone who isn’t. Every time this person tweets or blogs about being professional, I have the strong urge to punch something because I know it’s completely inaccurate. I know that in person, this individual has demonstrated a number of unprofessional behaviors, and the fact that this same individual is touted for their professionalism online just burns a little bit – okay, a lot.

But what can I do? I can’t control this person’s online behavior any more than I can control their offline behavior. Nor is it my job or responsibility to do so. So why does this bug me so much?

The reason it bugs me is that it tends to throw a pallor over everyone I’ve met online but have yet to meet face to face. How do I know they’re being authentic online? If it’s this easy for one person to convince those who follow him/her that they are the real deal, wouldn’t it be just as easy for someone else to do the same thing? And frankly, doesn’t this throw a shadow over my reputation online and off, as well?

But again, I can’t control this person’s online behavior. So here’s what I can do…

  • I can be the most authentic me online that I know how to be. This doesn’t mean sharing every detail about my life, but it does mean that I share my faults as well as my successes. It means I don’t have multiple Twitter or Facebook identities, and I’m both a person and a professional on whatever I do have.
  • I can choose to unfollow and not promote those who I know to be false online personalities – even if they’re popular or the flavor of the day.
  • I can trust people – if I choose to not trust anyone on the basis of this one person, I’m falling prey to their behavior just as much as if I believed and praised their online behavior. Truthfully, I believe that most of us are pretty authentic online, and there are a few people who choose not to be, who choose to use this medium to be someone else. I don’t need to base my trust on those few.
  • I can encourage and educate others on being authentic online in the hopes that the scales will continue to balance towards us instead of those few who aren’t.
  • I can quit letting this person get to me so much – fine, that’s easier said than done, but it’s something I can work on.

No, I can’t control this person’s online behavior, but I can continue to work on authenticity online.

How do you build trust and authenticity online?

The Importance of Authenticity Online

Anonymous Commenting and Authenticity

By Anitra Cottledge

Recently, a colleague of mine was interviewed for the local news regarding a retention initiative for students of color. It was a great segment, and I told him so. A day or so after the segment aired, he emailed the link for the clip to several people, and pointed our attention to the comments.

I groaned. Lately, I dread reading the comments sections of online blogs, newspapers, and other publications, particularly when the story has to do with social justice in some way or another. I’m sure you’ve seen comments of this ilk; just see some of the commentary surrounding Naomi Schaefer Riley’s comments about eliminating black studies.

Some of this is part of being a citizen in a democratic society; we are expected – at least, in theory – to engage in healthy discussion in which we can respectfully debate and disagree with statements if we so choose. I think that social media, including blogs, can be a powerful site of rich, public discourse. For instance, whether or not you identify yourself as a feminist, I would hope that most of us can see the role and impact of blogs like Feministing or Crunk Feminist Collective in activism, conversation and thought-creation.

That being said, a lot of times, the comments on social justice-focused articles make me want to bang my head on a desk. When I read comments that I feel are trollish, bigoted, over-the-top, or just downright hateful, I just sigh. Or growl. Or throw something.

Lately, the phenomenon of anonymous commenting has brought up a few questions for me: Is anonymity a boon or a curse? Are people who use anonymous commenting as a platform to talk trash or share their racist/homophobic/sexist/classist/ableist/etc. views just acting out? In other words, is there a performative aspect to anonymous commenting that doesn’t accurately reflect a person’s views? Or is anonymous commenting a way for people to showcase the way they really feel about an issue? Does it give voice to those who would not otherwise be heard, and those who feel like they can’t express the way they feel in face-to-face dialogues about social justice topics?

And if people’s actual views are more in line with the vitriol or ignorance they spout anonymously on the intrawebz, where does that leave us when we need to have face-to-face conversations about these same topics?

I have heard some people argue that people should be forced to login with their Facebook or Twitter account to post comments to some websites, but I’m not comfortable with that, nor do I think that’s the answer. For one, people could be using pen names or fake names on FB and Twitter. Also, that’s a little too much policing of people’s privacy.

Privacy is another element of this conversation. When the cast of The Hunger Games became public, there were several racist remarks made about the casting choices. There was even a Tumblr site created to expose “Hunger Games fans on Twitter who dare to call themselves fans yet don’t know a damn thing about the books.”

Should we call out these folks who make these comments? Some would argue that if your Twitter stream, for instance, is public and attached to your name, then you don’t have a leg to stand on when your comments pop up on popular blogs the next day a lá Gwyneth Paltrow.

As usual, I don’t have definitive answers, just a backpack full of questions. What say you, Student Affairs Women Talk Tech readers?

Anonymous Commenting and Authenticity