Authenticity and Transparency. Two grossly overused words that have been buzzing around the social media stratosphere a heck of a lot lately. People blog about it, chat about it, speak about it, then they blog about it, chat about it, and speak about it some more. They write books about it; they clamor for it like a newborn baby crying for its bottle. They demand it from every company, every organization, from their followers, from those they engage with. But can authenticity or transparency even be realized in social media? From a twitter bio? A tweet? A blog post? A facebook page? Looking for “authenticity” and “transparency” in social media is akin to looking to buy a loaf of bread and a carton of eggs in a hardware store. You’re in the wrong place.
THE REAL WORLD SUCKS EGGS
Perhaps the fascination with those two words stems from a desire to want the online world to be different than the “real world”. After all, the “real world” is full of hypocrites, false prophets, scoundrels, sorcerers, and used car salesmen. In the “real world” people smile to your face then stick a knife in your back as you turn away. In the “real world”, companies don’t care about the customer, they only care about making a buck. In the “real world”, nefarious salespeople will say and do anything to get you to buy their products. Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!
So they begin to wish for impossible things. They write about CEOs being more like the Dalai Lama; an economy based on exchanging gifts instead of cash for goods and services; they want every company that sets up a facebook page to be there simply to engage with them and be their “friend”, and they want the world to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” as they gleefully watch all the wicked salespeople get thrown into a lake of fire. They want life to be easier; the world to be friendlier, safer. After all, social media is about sugar and spice and everything nice, right? Hmmm…
YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!
Ultimately, the evangelists for authenticity and transparency are just looking for the truth, yes? “Be yourself!” they cry from the virtual rooftops. But the funny thing is that when some of these people are actually confronted with authenticity, they’re made uncomfortable by it. When they encounter transparency, they don’t like what they see. It’s not the “truth” they were seeking. This truth differs from their own, disagrees with their beliefs, challenges their opinions. So they flee from it, block it, unfollow it. They retract back into their shells like the snail whose tender horns have been hit. They want authenticity alright, they just want it on their terms. The world would be a better place if everybody believed what they believe; thought like they thought, engaged like they engage. How’s that for authenticity?
So for everyone out there who preaches authenticity and transparency, ask yourselves these three questions:
“Is it reasonable to expect everyone I encounter online to actually be who they appear to be?”
“Is transparency all that necessary if I personally am not willing to share all my dirty little secrets with the whole friggin’ world?”
“Am I ready to accept authenticity and transparency if the views and beliefs expressed by others differs from my own or should I be careful what I ask for (because it just might slap me upside the head)?”
If you answered “No.” to anyone of these questions, please cease and desist from blogging, chatting, speaking, or writing any books on the importance in social media of those two beaten and bloodied words ever again. Thank you.
So can authenticity exist in social media? Does it even matter? Authenticity is what you believe it to be – whether it actually is or isn’t shouldn’t matter as long as you’re enjoying the “engagement”, right? Can relationships be formed online that end up as lifelong friendships? Of course. But then you gotta take it to the “real world”, don’t you? And sometimes you end up pulling a few knives out of your back; dusting yourself off after getting thrown under the bus; wiping away a tear or two. But great rewards sometimes require great risk, yes? Fellow blogger Angel Magaña put it best in a recent blog post when he described social media relationship building as “trying to build a relationship with someone by limiting your interactions with them to casual glances through their living room window”.
“Authenticity” and “transparency” make for great blog fodder but they’re not a reality of social media and more importantly, they don’t need to be. When I want the real thing, I look to my wife, my family, my close friends. We’ve already invested the time (years) “checking each other out”; we’ve seen the best and worst of each other; been there to support each other during the tough times life throws at us; we’ve laughed and cried together. And the good news is you only need a few trusted souls to offset all the lies, hypocrisy, ego, hatred and indifference in the world. Can I get an “Amen”?
*Photographs by NuageDeNuit*