The Danger Of Being Yourself In Social Media Spaces

We’re in a very polarizing state in the American union these days. Covid, race relations, the upcoming presidential election… you name it, add the word “ugly” to it and that’s where we are.

223/365 - HEY MAN! That's not cool.... (Explored)

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Social media seems to amplify that for one main reason; people in general can be stupid. I see it a lot more on LinkedIn than on either Facebook or Twitter. It’s probably because we have more control over what we see or don’t see on those two platforms as opposed to LinkedIn… but it hasn’t always been that way.

Back in 2008, I was new to Twitter; so were a lot of other people. It was another presidential election year, and emotions were running high. Early on I wasn’t sure who I was supporting for president, but I did know one thing. I was ecstatic about Barack Obama having the opportunity to win the Democratic nomination for President; in my mind, having a truly viable black candidate was something I never expected to see in my lifetime.

He won the nomination and got to run against John McCain. Then the hate started against him, and it wasn’t pretty. Being against a candidate with different political views is one thing; you always expect that, whether you want to get into it or not. But things went way further than that.

It got racial, hateful and ugly. I know because I saw a lot of what was streaming on Twitter at the time. I hadn’t gotten to the point where I was perspicacious in who I was following; I was trying to build up numbers.

Back then Twitter was more like LinkedIn is now. It wasn’t just the people you were connected to, but the people they were connected to as well. Things blew up! I started deleting people I was both following and those showing up in my stream whose comments were vulgar, not because they had a different political point of view than me, but because of what they were saying about Obama in racist terms; I wasn’t prepared for that.

What was shocking was that some of the people saying these things were fairly well known in online circles at the time. This was before celebrities had embraced Twitter, back when having a following around 10,000 people was a big deal. The big names were all internet people, a few people in other fields here and there, but mainly internet stars. These were people who taught others how to behave in their own space, and here they were, failing in public.

You know what happened? A lot of those people went away in 2008 because of their hateful words. People saw what these people were really made of and decided they didn’t want to work with or buy products from these folks. The internet celebs said they should have the right to their opinion, but you find that every time you decide you should have the right to your opinion, no matter how hateful it might be, you forget that others have the right to their opinion as well, and their right comes with the option of spending their dollars elsewhere.

At this point in my life I’ve decided I don’t want to deal with that kind of controversy. Therefore, I remove anyone whose political positions are against mine in all social media spaces. I don’t swing overly far when it comes to things I believe in either, so I sometimes kill my connection with them; who wants to be mad all the time? I’m a fairly balanced guy who doesn’t like extremes unless I’m pulling for my favorite sports teams; these days I don’t even do that too often.

Unfortunately, I can’t do that on LinkedIn; it’s like Twitter back in the day and Facebook now. It’s shocking because it still touts itself as a business social media platform… but that’s not what it is 24/7.

What this means is that there are business opportunities I could be missing, but it also means there are business opportunities those people could be missing as well. Almost no one gets to spew vile things in one minute and conduct business as usual in another once word gets out. For some people they look to get beyond it for business purposes; for someone like me, it ain’t happening.


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Why? Case in point as a closer.

There was a guy I knew some years ago who used to like to make videos to express his point of view on things. The topics weren’t extreme but his language was. He did this on a personal blog, and to him it was just a bit of fun.

Until one day one of his clients came across his blog and didn’t like the content. The client didn’t want to be associated with someone putting out things like this. He immediately closed his account, and as people who are upset with things often do, he called a few other people and told them about the blog. Almost all the guy’s clients decided to disassociate themselves from this guy because they didn’t want to take the chance that one of their customers might come across the blog and think they approved of this behavior.

The guy immediately tried to fix things but it was too late. He shut down his blog, removed all his videos from all the places he had them, and worked for the next year trying to replace the business he lost. I lost track of him after a few months as he ended up shutting down his website as well, so I never got to talk to him again, and had to rely on someone else to give me an update; it wasn’t good.

As I always say, if you’re not ready to back up your position for everything you might want to say, you just might want to keep it to yourself, or at least don’t let it get onto the internet.

As it pertains to racial issues concerning black people, I’m certainly going to have my say because I feel it’s important. Last week proved that once again it’s a hot topic. Police killings, police shootings, police not arresting people who kill protesters until way after the fact… no wonder many professional sports boycotted last week

If you disagree with the protesters and decide to have your say, go for it. Just remember that what goes around comes around… especially on a blog like mine, as I don’t participate in the GDPR thing.

I hope I don’t have to deal with it; I hope some of you don’t either.
 

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23 thoughts on “The Danger Of Being Yourself In Social Media Spaces”

  1. LinkedIn has become “just another social media platform” to many users. Unfortunately for them, some of us still use it as designed – as a professional network. So when they let all their “ugly” hang out on LinkedIn, they are taking a much bigger risk, professionally, whether they realize it or not.

    Ironically, at about the same time LinkedIn started becoming “just another social media platform,” employers started taking it MORE seriously – which is ridiculous, really. I could point out fake accounts all day. I explain to some of them that recommendations are traded on sites like Empire Avenue, and endorsements can be solicited from utter strangers – I don’t doubt that they could be bought as easily as “Likes” on Instagram. They are incredulous.

    “Internet stars” – that whole concept makes me laugh. It’s like the human equivalent of a dot com bubble.

    I was talking with a psychiatrist who writes on Medium, and I think I nailed it in one of my comments to her – when we unfriend or disconnect from toxic people, and it hurts us, is it because it hurts to lose the relationship, or because it hurts to realize that the relationship depended on a fiction, or denial, that we’d constructed in our minds to enable us to overlook the ugliness?

    I suppose some of my language may be off-putting to folks who prefer sweet boxed white cake with vanilla icing. Of course, if they were clients, they could hire me to write something and remove my byline entirely. So I don’t know; does the client want to judge by writing quality overall, or by a few blue words in a personal blog? I’ve worked for people who wouldn’t hire any writer who was too squeamish or prudish to spell the f-word without using asterisks (or calling it “the f-word”) and the harshest critique of my writing came when I used a safe, bland, corporate style when I’d been asked (by the same company) to do social media coverage of a conference they hosted. They’d specifically asked me to do it because they liked my online style!

    As you know, I also don’t deliberately set out to offend people, either.

    I am “ready to back up [my] position for everything [I] say.” Because as you and I both know, the Internet is forever.

    You know me – I’m not a sports fan, but daaaaamn. Respect to those teams that boycotted. I could be turned into a fan, in a heartbeat.

    1. I hadn’t thought about Empire Kred (that’s what it’s called now lol) and it’s connection to LinkedIn via all those missions (I don’t play the missions game). I’ve been doing more culling than adding of people there, but I check people out more thoroughly than I used to back in the day. Still, I’ve had to block a couple of people you know because of things I’ve seen them say and things they’ve said to me on LinkedIn and Facebook; proves you never know where it’s coming from even when you know the person you’re connected to.

      You have to own up to the fact that they were internet stars back in the day. Few of them are stars now, but truthfully I’d rather them than all the celebrities, almost none of whom I can learn anything from… oh well…

      White cake with white frosting… if it’s not a wedding cake… yuck! lol

  2. I’ve aways been thoughtful about the things I have put out there and when companies started to search for my online presence, I knew I had nothing to worry about. I have a few websites here and there but it’s nothing bad. In fact, my presence has helped me get some wonderful opportunities in life. I too, know a few who have had issues with work due to old content that was found. Most jobs now have social media policies and in a way it’s great, there is less evil out there. But then again, people feel they are being made to be a certain way due to work.
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    1. I’ve been able to be myself since I first got on social media. I share my opinions when needed, but I’ve been relatively safe in how I deliver my thoughts. I’ve run into problems as it pertains to age here and there; terminology that was the norm when I was young, though not salacious or dirty, isn’t as appreciated in today’s age.

      Luckily, in general terms I’ve always known better. I appreciate that I at least learned something from my parents. lol

  3. Hi Mitch,
    I use lists on Twitter and when I stick to those I don’t see all the political or controversial stuff. I stick to them a lot more today than ever before.

    I don’t unfollow others because of their beliefs. Some people who have different views than mine are still the nicest people, etc. We can all agree to disagree and still be friends or family.
    But if they start something really negative I may mute them or hide for 30 days on FB. (But here is the other thing: I want to understand where others are coming from, so I do read their stuff to try to understand. )

    I grew up where this type of stuff was discussed every week at family gatherings and things got heated but we all hugged and came back the following week. (Only once a cousin and my grandfather never spoke after an argument. ) I don’t even remember what it was about. (Sad!)

    Anyways I will say it is hard to be on social media today with all going on. If I wasn’t in the business of it I may have shut it down for a while.

    Instead I use lists and scheduling tools to not see it often.

    Tough topic Mitch! I admire you for writing about it!
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    1. Glad to see you here Lisa. I’m an only child from a military family. We almost never discussed anything at the dinner table; many times we might have only been at the table together for less than 10 minutes or so.

      Overall, the problem isn’t talking with people who have different views; it’s how those differences are expressed. You’re in a safer position than I am because folks like me are getting killed indiscriminately and it could easily be me. Of course you were around back in 2008 when Twitter was relatively new and you saw some of what people were saying. There’s no way I could forgive people for that kind of nonsense; it’s just not my way. You’re correct about the Twitter lists, though; it’s rare that I see a lot of stuff when I’m using one of those.

  4. I use only WhatsApp and Facebook for real social networking and as tools to communicate messages. I rarely tweet but read quite a few regular tweeters. I don’t use any of these for propagating my ideology.

    1. That’s true Ramana, but you’ve had your moments on your blog over the years where you’ve expressed something going on locally (okay, in India; way too big for locally I suppose lol) or somewhere in the world that had gotten on your nerves. That’s a human thing to do, and we’re all humans; it’s problematic when folks forget to modify their language and not exacerbate the problem. You’re good at that, so you’ll always be just fine.

    1. I definitely know where you’re coming from. In today’s climate, people on whatever side you’re not on are looking for you to lambaste for whatever. I don’t worry about it as much now because I’m older, and I block a lot of things that wasn’t possible previously. Overall, it comes down to how one presents themselves when they have opposing positions online. It also depends which platform you’re using and the potential consequences of going against the grain in the wrong way.

  5. Hey Mitch,

    I have no idea if it’s me becoming more intolerant over time. I’m starting to see some unpalatable and even racist content on my Instagram feed, posted by friends I’ve known for years. I recently replied to one, had a heated debate about fake news and BLM over DMs, before I decided I’ve had enough and I unfollowed.

    That said, cancel culture has made me more cautious about expressing my political views publicly. It’s especially difficult to be open about certain topics in a “paternalistic” (the word academics and western media love to use to describe my country) country such as mine. The situation is improving, but I still err on the side of caution.

    I debate my friends privately, and I don’t blast my followers (all acquaintances and friends) with my politically-charged views. I’ve even deleted content on Medium that I realized could potentially affect people’s perception of me several years down the road.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and these anecdotal cases, Mitch!
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    1. Believe me Ming, I understand. What’s funny is that, as far as I know, I don’t have any friends or connections who don’t believe in at least 90% of the same things I do. I haven’t had a single friend who’s complained about BLM, and you can bet that if I did it would be on a page like Facebook where they might have been a friend of a friend that I allowed in my feed. I’m sorry you’ve experienced that, but you’re not only young but you probably never noticed it if it’s an uncommon conversation.

      See, I’m 61 and black in America. I don’t worry about cancel culture because I’m part of the at-risk group. I’m always cautious with my words because it’s just how I talk and write; I think that keeps potential problems at a minimum. I also block a lot of words on both Twitter and Facebook, and I almost never engage in those types of conversations on LinkedIn unless I’m supporting someone. You’ve seen some of what I write here, and I assume you’ve seen some of my latest videos. When it involves you, sometimes you have to take a stand for what’s right. But you can take a stand and still be civil… at least I hope I am! 🙂

  6. When I transitioned from a 30+years corporate career to freelancing as a business writer, LinkedIn was my primary social media platform. I knew nothing about social media (some would say I still don’t) 😉 and LinkedIn seemed most like what I was used to.

    Even back then (2009), I was appalled at some of the comments I would see in industry groups. I couldn’t understand how someone who was on a “networking” site, looking for business, would be so short-sighted to understand the hit they could take from such posts. It has only gotten worse.

    I appreciate honest dialog but I follow the old school practice of keeping it professional (like Holly indicated). But, like you, Mitch, I do believe you can take a stand and still be civil.

    1. Thanks for commenting Cathy. You’re right, things started to turn after the 2008 election. Even though I have strong opinions about certain things, I’d have never said anything the way some of these people were. I wonder how many jobs and relationships were ended because of that behavior; I know I dropped lots of people, and I’m still doing it in 2020.

  7. I guess I am sort of “Devil May care” about what I say. I try not to be thoughtless or hurtful, but I am opinionated and old enough to stand behind it and smart enough to listen to someone else’s opinion. I don’t follow or support some political thoughts and actions and I don’t want to have to look at those opinions or outcomes. I even scan the news and carefully sensor reading anything about “He Who Shall Not Be Named” because I’ve had one stroke and I don’t need to raise my blood pressure needlessly. Oh well, I don’t have any business to lose and have narrowed my circle of friends that is so what matter?
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    1. LOL! You’re probably safe in any case. Every once in a while I think I scare people, but I have to be me, especially because of what I do for a living. It’s a prescient warning to those who speak off the cuff with little thought put into what they’re about to say. So many have taken hits they needn’t have.

  8. I think, just like we all have different personas and personalities with the different groups of people we have in our lives, we now need the same on social media. We need to present ourselves to the world in a way that’s acceptable and appropriate depending on what we do, I think. It sucks, but it is what it is.
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    1. Actually I think it’s perspicacious. I could do with a few less jerks in my life, and I’m sure if those folk thought about it they’d figure out that being in attack mode or, well, being a jerk towards someone else won’t help them in the long term, especially since social media never forgets. People can disagree with each other without having it escalate into an open war; whether they do or not is up to them, and to us, especially if we’re representing a business.

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