Fear of Being Authentic on Social Media

19 Oct

“I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” Monica Lewinsky

I was very moved by the TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky. She spoke about the challenges of people “stealing private words, video and pictures and making them public without consent and without context”. She made a very valid point that society is becoming “desensitized” and this is leading to increased trolling and cyberbullying. The internet, and now social media, allows us to comment, share jokes, call names and other kinds of harassing behaviour instantaneously. What we fail to realize is that this, as Lewinsky emotionally states, not only causes individuals harm to their reputation, it also strips them of their dignity.

Jon Ronson, a journalist and film maker, spoke about social media and the “constant high-dramas” that are created. We either have to do something heroic or something that shames someone else to get validation. I see a lot of people in my Facebook feed posting about their personal lives or criticizing the lifestyle of others which generates a frenzy of drama. Think about the dentist and Cecil the Lion. I don’t even have to say anything more than that because you know what a social media frenzy that was, Ronson provides a few more examples in his interview with Lewinsky.

I also found myself reflecting and identifying with Ronson in One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life. We “tweet” and “post” on Facebook and are saddened when we don’t get a “retweet” or “like”. I have been overjoyed when my tweet was retweeted or my latest Facebook post liked. We, and admittedly I, have become dependent on the congratulatory responses of others on social media. Why do we need the approval of others?

Ronson explains that “Twitter is a mutual approval machine. We surround ourselves with others that approve us.” It is so true! Granted my new “professional” Twitter account is mostly academics and colleagues, I can’t say the same for my Facebook account. I have been guilty of “unfriending” someone who was making posts that I found offensive. My actions sort of validate what Jennifer was talking about in her blog Digital Citizenship, Engagement and Breaking Out of Our Social Bubbles’ and perhaps I was unable to see their perspective because  of the discomfort from what they were saying. It is so much easier to unfollow and unfriend then to sit back and have an open mind. A very humbling moment in my journey.

In her blog Helen Regan writes briefly about the “Psychology of Online Shaming”. It becomes so easy to publicly shame others on social media. It allows us to get things “off our chest” and feel better but we often forget that there is someone, a real human being, at the other end of our comments. We don’t have to look into their eyes or hear the hurt in their voice. We can just spew forth whatever hurtful things we want and not have to worry, heck we can even turn the device off after we are finished. In her TED Talk Monica Lewinsky also identified that we lose context of the person. We forget that they are someone’s daughter, someone’s wife or someone’s sister. Our students need to reconnect to the human element of interacting with people.

So what does this mean in my classroom? The Saskatchewan Government gave us a great place to start (Yes it is a start with a long road ahead). The document Saskatchewan’s Action Plan to Address Bullying and Cyberbullying states that:

We need to support students to develop responsible and appropriate online behaviour:

  • Although students are comfortable using technology, they may not be using it appropriately.
  • Because technology is a part of children’s everyday lives, they need to learn the necessary skills to use technology in healthy and ethical ways.
  • Cyberbullying is a major concern, particularly for parents and caregivers; some feel they lack the knowledge and expertise to help their children in the digital age.
  • We need tools to support parents and caregivers to recognize when their child is in need and know how to help them.

A final reflection… I find myself drawn into a vortex when reading and exploring the topics in the class. One link leads to another and then another. Pretty soon I can’t remember where I started. This week was one of my favourite! I came across Psychology of Social Networking when delving deeper into the topic of online shaming. I spent hours reading through the various blog posts by Dr. Balick. He believes that we “present ourselves in the ways that we wish others to see us” and social media is merely the “outward expressions of ego”. We can control what people see and although it is primarily the ego (think of all the selfies) it is still an online extension of our self. Looking back my online identity has certainly evolved (perhaps matured) and has moved from the ego to a more authentic outward extension of myself, however I am still very cautious of moving forward without restraint because of my position as an educator. I don’t want to find myself in the online shaming arena.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 19, 2015 in EC&I832


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One response to “Fear of Being Authentic on Social Media

  1. Kirsten Hansen

    October 19, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Good points, Jeannine! I can totally understand the caution of how you present yourself online. Related to that, while the issue of GamerGate was in full swing (you can find lots of information just by doing a search), I never once tweeted the term. I knew there were people on Twitter who were actively looking for anyone mentioning it and anyone who might oppose the position. Especially someone who identified as female. A whole lot of people received nasty tweets (I think Katia experienced that herself maybe) and death threats, just for being female and having an opinion. But I think the thing to remember is that as much as we caution, we also have to point out that digital citizens have the ability to make things better. This is especially important today, the day of the election. If we as voters need to acknowledge that voting has consequences but is also our way of making a difference, then the choices we make online likewise can make things on the internet suck or make them better. So if it sucks, it’s our fault. If it’s better, it’s because of us too. It’s pretty hard to be shamed when you are doing something kind and thoughtful, as long as you think through whether it is, indeed, kind and thoughtful.



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