All the rest, Social Networks

Taking away voices – a rant on authenticity, transparency and freedom of expression

The NHL has unveiled a strict social media policy for their players which includes extensive blackout periods when players and team personnel cannot update or tweet statuses on social media.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/grabs40/status/114170216937828352″]

Interesting, and telling, hashtag on this tweet from Michael Grabner of the NY Islanders.

Now, the NHL is not the first major sport to enact a SM policy for players. And true, these people fall into the realm of public figures, but for me that doesn’t diminish the fact that this represents a chilling intimidation practice that I think is being carried out in other workplaces as well.

But don’t we have rights?

I read stuff like this and I worry. I worry about how much power organizations have over their people – of employers over employees – and how that power manifests itself and extends into the personal lives of the people and forces them to be silent. I worry about things like freedom of expression and the guarantee that, in Canada at least, we have (emphasis mine):

… freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.

I think there is a danger here as social networks become more entwined into the fabric of our lives – that if you choose to engage in a social network, be ready to have what you say scrutinized by the company you work for. The corporation owns you by virtue of the fact that they give you a paycheque, and you may be one keystroke away from getting Dooced. It’s sad that the example of Heather Armstrong happened almost 10 years ago, and in that time we have evolved our thinking in a manner which doesn’t view what the company that fired Heather as wrong, but instead have shifted the focus onto the importance of “managing” our digital identities through the lens of what our employers, present and future, may find acceptable.

Save anonymous for those who need it

I find this style of control by an employer over an employee not only wrong, but also dangerous for social media because it not only silences people from speaking and having a voice, but it also reinforces/forces anonymity on the net, something I am generally opposed to. People who can’t speak publicly as themselves will just take on anonymous pseudonyms or adopt elaborate codes to conceal what they are really saying. Not to say when there are not legitimate needs for people to be anonymous on the net (fear of political persecution, for example), but bending to the social media will of an employer is not one of those reasons. Let’s save anonymous for those who need it and make authentic the default.

Let’s be real

I acknowledge that sometimes I have a naive view of social networks, and that how I wish they worked is often in conflict with how they actually work. I think they are at their most powerful when people using them are real people, free and unencumbered to be real people, full of foibles and contradictions that real people exhibit. They are not afraid to post a half baked thought or something that might be viewed by some as controversial or provocative. That they have the opportunity to use their social network accounts to provide an accurate reflection of who they really are as people and not as corporate or political autobots.

Real and virtual – it’s all the same

In a perfect world, I would have the same level of freedom to express myself in a social network as I would have in the real world. That is to say, I should have the freedom to be bound by the same social conventions that bound my expressions in real life. In my heart, I would hope that this is where we are heading as a society. That actions on social networks are judged in the same manner as actions in real life. If you are an ass in real life, then chances are good you will expose yourself as an ass online. It is only in this way do I believe social networks can truly be “authentic”.

But when we begin to closely tie our online identities with those of our employers, and they begin to call the shots (both explicitly and implicitly), we lose this authenticity, and we lose who we truly are. When authenticity begins to get questioned, trust erodes, and when trust erodes and motives get questioned all the time, we grow tired and cynical and, most likely, withdraw. Disengage from the network because it loses value for us. And if that happens, I believe we have lost something that is hard to replace, and squandered a truly unique opportunity in our human evolution to connect at a very deep level with other human beings; human beings full of contradictions, who make mistakes, who post half baked ideas, who continually evolve and change throughout their lifetime. Who are real and truly authentic.

CC BY 4.0 Taking away voices – a rant on authenticity, transparency and freedom of expression by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Just a guy writing some stuff. Mostly for me these days.