Big smile. Stomach in. Chest out. For all those ‘candid shots’, there’s at least one cynical social media scroller rolling her eyes. She knows that picture-perfect moment took hours to ‘perfect’.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Facebook is where you lie to your friends; Twitter is where you’re honest to strangers”?
A recent social media faux pas got me thinking.
I was angry, OK?
You’ve seen what happens when I let my emotions get the better of me. Long story short: I had a little moan about a client I’d recently cut ties with over invoicing disputes. It’s commonplace among the freelance community to bemoan the pervasive, yet supposedly ‘acceptable’, late-pay culture.
It was unprofessional, but I had blocked them and I didn’t name names. However, they somehow found the tweet and messaged me about it.
Still, nobody was harmed and we moved on with our lives. But what about when our social media activity has deeper consequences?
“At least 70 abusive messages on social media”
You’ll no doubt have read about the abhorrent language directed at Marcus Rashford and his Euros teammates. The messages led to more than half a million people signing a petition for user ID verification when creating social media accounts.
Originally, Katie Price set up the petition in response to online abuse against her son. But a few social media users’ vile reactions to the Euros final saw the petition spread like wildfire.
It even gave rise to a counter-petition (which has a meagre 400 signatures by comparison). Said petition states that verifying user IDs will expose thousands of marginalised users, for example, LGBTQ+ teens, to abuse. In turn, the government had a similar response to Price’s petition back in May:
The Online Safety legislation will address anonymous harmful activity. User ID verification for social media could disproportionately impact vulnerable users and interfere with freedom of expression.
So, where do we go from here?
With today’s ‘cancel culture’, it’s no wonder that some social media users want to hide their identities. Many are rightly called out for their hate speech or otherwise incendiary language. Others may have perhaps poorly worded an opinion or unwittingly caused offence.
The solution? Create a pseudonym, or parody account. I spoke to one of the true kingpins of parody social media accounts – none other than the inimitable Mike McGann.
You might know him better as Mike Winnet.
— Katie Thompson (@katielingoyork) April 27, 2021
When asked how ‘real’ he is on social media, he tells me he made a living out of pretending to be somebody else. For years, his sharp-tongued attacks on BS corporate culture made for light entertainment among the LinkedIn community.
Reader, the bots caught him. Mr Contrepreneur was permanently banned in April 2021. LinkedIn would become a dark place forevermore. Still, he takes it in his stride – citing Ricky Gervais’ thoughts on guitar lessons. Offence is taken, not given, right?
When vulnerability works
We can all claim “honest comment” when making disparaging statements on social media. But there are other ways to be honest. One such proponent of this ‘vulnerability’ is Rowan Martin, whose warts-n-all posts are met with widespread praise almost daily.
“I do use honesty as a device in my social media posts. For instance, I’ve told people that my child’s iPad has broken, and I need to sell a LinkedIn bio to replace it.
“I’m not trying to make people feel sorry for me, but I am being honest about my struggles. I want people to understand that, if they support me, they’re supporting my children.”
A touch of tough love
Of course, Rowan is also keen to fly the flag for freelancers, and often calls out bad behaviour in the industry. She’s not the only one. Jo Watson, who is equally known for her frankness, recounts times she has put the spotlight on bad practices.
“There have been a few times where I’ve posted about something generic that angers or irks me. I’ve had a few clients come to me and ask if I was talking about them! I would never speak negatively about somebody I was working with, or about a former client who’d treated me well. I love that they ‘check in’, though!”
And what about those filtered posts?
My respondents were unanimous in their views on social media highlight reels. “I think we all exaggerate and show people the best parts of our lives,” says Mike.
Is this a good thing? In most cases, probably not. Rowan says: “I hate posts where people talk about their wonderful lives and business successes, and never give anyone a glimpse ‘behind the curtain’. Rising at 4am, practising self-care, posting about their wonderful partners and holidays – it makes me want to vomit. I’m great at my job but I refuse to hide the struggle.”
Jo adds: “I cringe at the fakery present in a lot of posts online. It would crush me if I had to resort to doing that to get the engagement I need to drive my business. But I would add that people only ever see the bits of my life I choose to reveal – the highs, the lows and the mundane.”
Mr Gervais' thoughts on taking things personally...and guitar lessons.
Finding the balance
It’s no secret that we all portray a certain version of ourselves online. Jo warns that people may want to share false negatives in order to appear humble or authentic. Mike acknowledges that these curated feeds may help to boost sales.
So, how can we strike the balance? In some cases, it’s been done for us: for example, influencers and advertisers in Norway must now legally declare when an image has been retouched. The legislation was introduced to address “body pressure in society”.
And it’s even more insidious when we look at the effect on children:
- Almost 3 per cent of children aged 11-16 have taken fully naked photos of themselves
- More than half of these children shared the images
- Teenage girls reported “higher levels of internalisation of the thin ideal, body surveillance and dieting, and lower body esteem”.
In other cases, it’s our personal responsibility. For instance, we might wish to think twice about filtering images of ourselves if they’re accessible to children.
To share or not to share?
So, when is a vulnerable post a good idea, and when is it a cynical cry for attention? “Sometimes, you have to risk the alienation,” says Kieran Majury, recalling a time he wrote about the disintegration of a relationship.
“I didn’t think anyone would read it. I swear I’ve never had such a response.”
I’m inclined to agree. A rather over-sharey recent tweet I wrote, asking people about going cold turkey off anti-depressants, led to an influx of responses.
Most were positive. One stranger told me to “see a doctor and stop messing with my mental health”. Risky, I suppose.
The key is, at least in my experience, this. If you’re going to be honest, you have to be honest. Don’t dress up or overdramatise the truth – people will be more inclined to level with you if you have genuinely had XYZ experience.
Beyond the filter
Social media filters are never going to go away. We are always going to share the best angles, the sunsets, the business successes and the ‘good times’. Whether we choose to share the bad stuff is a personal choice – but we need to understand the risk that comes with it.
In particular, we should decide if we’re going to divorce personal brand from company brand when posting. Chances are, nobody’s going to care what TFL had for breakfast.
I ask you all to heed this advice, and that of my peers’ experiences:
- Think about who will see your post. Could they see it as an attack on them? Could you clarify by tweaking your language?
- Celebrate the highs but be humble with them. These are sensitive times. If it’s a genuine achievement, it doesn’t need a filter.
- Accept that you will never. Please. Everybody. Some will like it; some will hate it. Some won’t care.
- Be prepared to handle the consequences, be they floods of support, public vilification or platform banning.
- DON’T SAY ANYTHING ONLINE THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY IN PERSON. Freedom of speech, absolutely. But an online forum does not exempt you from consequences.
Must be off now. There’s a cocktail waiting for me on the beach.