The Quandary of Life Online

In one of my university classes in the first year of my Communications and Media degree I was told to curate an online identity. To leave anything personal out and only create content that would be part of a portfolio, so when I began to look for jobs in my chosen career, I’d have a history that could be viewed by potential employers. So I did and for the next two years I was only creating blog posts about global media interventions, convergent media practices and memes about the Murdoch media. Essentially from the get go I wasn’t promoting who I was as a person, but who I was as a student.

That never sat well with me as it didn’t ring true to who I was as a whole person. If someone wanted to hire me, why should I keep who I was out of what I was supposed to present to the world as me?

Personal and professional lives will always overlap. I have written previously in There is no Vacuum Suckage Here about how your work life does not exist in it’s own vacuum, it will always interlace itself with your own personal life. In some cases the lines will become so blurred that work becomes their identity. In my opinion it will never be clear on where a professional persona ends and the personal begins. Enter the digital age of social media and the culture of recording much of your life in the public sphere and the lines are even more impossible to distinguish. My view on the matter, as seen by the contents of my blog and twitter, that represent myself; the university student, potential employee and who I am online as a whole. That carefully curated online presence that some may project onto the world is something I see as inauthentic. I agree with privacy and making your own choices about what you want to allow others to see, but your online persona should still accurately reflect who you are as well.

My stance on the online and offline expectations  is that there is a line on what impacts your online persona has on your offline professional life. Unless your views and values are so misaligned with your employer’s values (racism, sexism) that your employer or potential, I don’t see why this should affect your professional career. As Laura Pasquini brought up in her article Being Professional Online… Whatever That Means (2017) there are arguments that there is two sides of views on being an academic on social media.  

One views social media as public discourse and knowledge sharing, while the other see its use as ‘personal reputation management’, or just a waste of time. But why do these seem to be so black and white? Especially as younger generations, who have been brought up by technology, are entering the workplace, therefore their values and expectations of online and offline behaviour is much different to previous generations.

I want to consider  whether or not it is wide practice for employers and potential employers to view and analyse our social media use, instances when social media use has impacted on an employee’s career, and the questions that the uncertainty of future online work culture raises for a communications and media graduate.

My generation was the first of those children that grew up with technology in this digital era. I remember when Myspace was the ‘in’ thing before Facebook aggressively eclipsed it, and when MSN messenger was our first foray into the instantaneous, always ‘plugged in’ world of social media.

We are highly connected and utilise incredibly active  communications and media technologies, constantly collaborating and sharing information with others. Our internet use is a topic of research and discussion as it is sparking new discourse on the future of work and the expectations that younger generations have in regards to employment. Studies have been done on people’s attachment with internet,our social media presence,and how they impact our perceptions towards a future workplace (Desai & Lele, 2017).
However, the fact that we are so connected and so open with our social media use creates the pitfall of too much information. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn (yes, LinkedIn is a social network- granted a business/professional network) are places to share and collect your life’s moments and this makes it a gold mine of information for potential employers.
In the study by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder in 2017, it was discovered that 70% of employers will use a potential employee’s social media profile to screen candidates before hiring them. As your social media profiles are part of the public domain and not actually private, (unless your settings are set to the highest level of security) it isn’t illegal for them to do this. Harris Poll found that 54% of employers would not hire someone because of  the content found on their social media sites and 34% have fired or reprimanded an employee for what they posted online. This, alongside anecdotal evidence that I’ve heard from colleagues and fellow University students, indicates that it is a practice is widely known and conducted.

But should employers really care about what is on your social media?

Certain professions have a higher expectation of what is deemed appropriate social media use. Teachers and journalists have evidently experienced this expectation and some have felt drastic consequences that have become public and well documented. There is an instance of a teacher in County Durham, England, who had been fired from her job as a teacher because a parent  at the school she was employed at found images of her modelling lingerie and cocktail dresses for an apparel store. This  was apparently just too much for some to deal with and complaints were made to the school (Kircher, 2017). Although the school had allegedly known about it prior to the complaints, the reputation of the school was being brought into question and she was fired. Social media, something she probably saw as relatively private, with no association to the school or her profession as a teacher, caused her to lose her job. That raises the question, are your actions and words a reflection of your workplace even if you are not representing that workplace outside of work?

My Aunty works at a school, as a teacher, and has no social media except a Twitter account she uses for a class. While safety and anonymity are the reasons she cites for not having active profiles across platforms, could it also be because of the high expectations we, as a society, have placed on teachers to always be teachers? There are NSW Education Department social media procedures available online for teachers to follow, but even in the document there is this statement:

The lines between personal and professional life are blurred in online social networks. For this reason, employees are required to act as ambassadors for the department and role models for students and the community. (NSW DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, 2016)

Even if you are no longer in work hours your private social media use is dictated by your employer’s social media policy.

Professional conflicts of opinion and the breach of social media policy happens quite often, as many journalists with passionate Twitter feeds can attest to.
In 2016, SBS sports journalist Scott Mcintyre was fired for tweeting ‘contentious’ comments made on ANZAC day regarding Australian diggers. Politician Malcolm Turnbull (as then Communications Minister) rang SBS managing director Michael Ebeid to raise concerns and the very next day the journalist was fired. Scott made these comments on a twitter account that included his profession and employer, but had no disclaimer regarding any comments that he made being his own, and not that of the SBS. He maintains that his comments were his “expression of political opinion”, whereas SBS argues the tweets were in breach of their social media policy and code of conduct.

These are personal views being promoted on a professional account that raises a question whether or not it would have had the same effect if it came from his private account. This is clear example of how important it is to be aware of your company’s policies on social media use, as it could be argued that Mcintyre just assumed a personal, political opinion would not have such a massive impact on his profession.

Two key issues spring from this; Would this have been just as contentious if he had been outwardly racist or sexist as opposed to just controversial regarding ANZAC day? Why does a minister in parliament feel it necessary to have someone fired for a personal opinion – Is this kind of interjection ethical?

Another high profile journalist spurned by online comments is Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Yassmin posted a Facebook status on ANZAC Day stating LEST. WE. FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)” and then deleted it within a couple of hours.  As well as a barrage of vitriol from some outspoken Australians feeling brave behind a keyboard, Yassmin received death threats and called herself “The most publicly hated Muslim in Australia” (Fyfe, 2017). Her ABC television show was cancelled, she had to move house, politicians called for her removal from the Council for Australian-Arab Relations and conservative backbencher George Christensen called for her “self-deportation” . These dramatic repercussions were all for a post on Facebook that reflected a political view that she personally held.

Both of these cases are based around somebody’s personal social media account, with the content used against them despite being opinions expressed autonomously, as individuals.  Their careers, and their public ties to their respective workplaces, meant they were punished for the publicity of the indiscretions, fired and heavily criticised as their personal opinions were dissected by their employers, and the Australian public.

As mentioned above, there is an expectation for some University students to maintain an online presence to form part of a portfolio for potential employees. We’re instructed to keep it separate, keep it professional, but in the real world the lines between your personal and professional life is not that clear. There is always going to be your personal bias, opinions, experiences and thoughts that creep their way into your writing, your work and your social media profiles. Do those who do not necessarily represent a business or company, but instead are the business, have to watch this fine line between online persona and professionalism?

Professional bloggers like Constance Hall, Elan Morgan, Clementine Ford have all created a career out of writing and expressing their personal thoughts through their professional work such as their blogs, tweets and online articles.
I asked Elan Morgan (Twitter @schmutzie) if she had any insight into how, as a writer, you can be aware of the effect personal opinions and comments on Twitter (or any social media) may have on potential employment or opportunities:

I am always deeply aware that I have past, present, and future clients seeing my words on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as my website, and every once [sic] I feel a touch of panic about how political I am or how strongly my opinions can come across.
But, partially because of social media and public writing, I’ve been able to build a career that is partially carried along by having public personality. I create and build on the internet, so all my work is in some way public just as I am. It is a good fit.
And my clients, by the time they contact me, are well aware of who I am and must be okay with it, I suppose. I am very lucky.
On the other hand, my brother is an elementary school teacher in a small town, and parents and the community watch him with too much judgemental scrutiny to make public writing possible.
(E, Morgan personal communication, 3rd November 2017)

 

Referring back to Pasquini’s theory of the two views on being academic online, it’s easy to see that there does not need to be only two sides. Reputation management and public discourse do not need to be two separate entities, balancing a professional and personal life online can be done,  but perhaps only when you aren’t under an industry that scrutinises the two personas so intensely.

As a student who will hopefully finish with a degree of Communications and Media, majoring in Global Media, my potential career choices are likely to be more online based, with the possibility of freelance writing and the like. Can I honour my own values as online work culture becomes increasingly uncertain?
Many online personalities blur these personal and professional lines regularly, with articles and blog posts being shared around the world. This raises what academic Michael Adams proposed while discussing his 2017 Calibre Essay prize winning essay Salt Blood in a lecture to our class. Does this external validation protect a writer?

Personally, I think it does to some extent. You can stay authentic and true to the values of who you are and what you strive to represent, but validation does not always protect those who are stung by the expectations of a business that they are representing, even with their most private thoughts, albeit on a public platform.

 

References

ABC News. (2017). Joyce urges ABC to consider more action over Abdel-Magied Anzac Day comment. [online] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-26/yassmin-abdel-magied-under-fire-for-anzac-post/8472414 [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

Desai, S. and Lele, V. (2017). Correlating Internet, Social Networks and Workplace – a Case of Generation Z Students. Journal of Commerce and Management Thought, 8(4), pp.802-808.

Fyfe, M. (2017). Yassmin Abdel-Magied on becoming ‘Australia’s most publicly hated Muslim’. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/yassmin-abdelmagied-on-becoming-australias-most-publicly-hated-muslim-20170816-gxxb7d.html [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

Kircher, M. (2016). Teacher was fired after parents found her lingerie modeling pictures on Facebook. [online] Business Insider. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-fired-lingerie-model-pictures-2016-3/?r=AU&IR=T [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

NSW Department of Education (2016). SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY IMPLEMENTATION PROCEDURES. NSW Department of Education, pp.2-4.

Pasquini, L. (2017). Being Professional Online… Whatever That Means. [Blog] Techknowtools. Available at: https://techknowtools.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/being-professional-online/ [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

Prnewswire.com. (2017). Number of Employers Using Social Media to Screen Candidates at All-Time High, Finds Latest CareerBuilder Study. [online] Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/number-of-employers-using-social-media-to-screen-candidates-at-all-time-high-finds-latest-careerbuilder-study-300474228.html [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

Visentin, L. (2016). Sacked reporter Scott McIntyre and SBS resolve dispute over Anzac Day tweets. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/sacked-reporter-scott-mcintyre-and-sbs-resolve-dispute-over–anzac-day-tweets-20160411-go37vt [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

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