We’re all dishonest online – but how dishonest?

Posted on November 29, 2011


I’ve got two or three upcoming posts about social media – because surely the world needs someone else experting on the subject. (See? I even made up a new verb just to heap annoyance upon annoyance.)

In all seriousness, I am going to write something about social media policies, the types many big companies and public sector organisations ask employees to sign or at least read and say they understand.

I want to do that because it’s a fairly big deal these days, I’m not seeing a lot about it and because I was involved in pulling one together a year or two ago. I say ‘pull together’ because those things are an exercise in diplomacy and consensus across departments such as Marketing, HR, Legal and the vocational bits of a company, whether you’re a journalist, policeman or work the late shift at the warehouse.

But as I got to thinking about all that something more fundamental occurred to me, as it must have done at times to millions of other people: How much of what you see people write on social networks is anything close to what they really think?

This isn’t a comment on those who have to use those platforms for their job – posting broadly what someone else wants them to.

It’s also not a comment on social media policies. Well, not much. Good ones leave a lot of freedom for people to express themselves, certainly off-the-clock.

I have friends who refuse to be on certain platforms because of reasons of authenticity. It’s too much bullshit, they say. What’s the point? But I’m focusing on those of us using them – and using them under our own names (anonymity being another debate altogether) not those who have opted out.

You might raise questions of authenticity or honesty around any form of communication. And you’d be right. Our every utterance usually goes through some kind of internal filter (more in a minute on those lacking that gene), whether it’s to our nearest and dearest or those we work with or others, like strangers littering on the Tube. (“I really want you to stop but I want to tell you to stop in such a way that you don’t think to pull a knife on me,” you might first think before opening your mouth.)

Can be that split second before you react to someone else’s comment or action. Could be a measured written response over many days to something serious. Either way, internal filter.

But back to social – we have it rammed down our throat that what we contribute on the net, down to every last Like or Follow, typo or insult is there forever.

At the same time many people also feel more and more pressured to have a social profile, for all sorts of reasons. (Obliged to at work / All their friends are there / Making their next career move…)

So who is really speaking their mind? Everyone has a reason to be guarded in some way, right?

Are the only people speaking truly freely online those who don’t get this or those who don’t care? I have a lot of respect for the latter group (not so much the former). I’m not that honest, I tell you (if you believe me).

Surely this post is even an exercise in trying to be measured but trying to get you reading and stay reading, at least until I get ridiculously self-referential like now.

To put this all another way: How many times do you read a tweet, watch a YouTube video, maybe catch a Facebook update from a long lost friend – or a few dozen other outputs – and know what you want to say… and then bite your social media tongue? Half the time? Three-quarters? More?

Perhaps this is all to say that yes, social media is much like other forms of communication. What you see and hear isn’t always what’s really meant.

It’s certainly like other forms of online communication, where we’ve long known that a throwaway thought in an email or text can come back to haunt companies or individuals.

But I’d say it’s different, often in immediacy and reach more than indelibility.

Any wonder we still meet in person?

Further reading:

Here’s a piece I found online about making the point that social networks such as LinkedIn can keep us honest about things like career history


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