Should you censor your social media?
A friend of mine is so unusually learned in the mystic arts of acquiring dates for other people via Tinder that I once accused him of wizardry. When my mom mentioned this to a colleague around the water-cooler, said colleague responded that my magical friend should probably monetize that ability. If social media were simply another means of communication, then such business advice would naturally be discarded as blatant fraud along with Chris Spence’s doctoral thesis and an unnamed American president’s claim to have authored The Art of the Deal. It is not, though. While using other people’s Tinder accounts to get them dates does seem repulsive (and in my humble opinion, it is), it also says something about the slippery nature of social media. It’s unlike most other forms of communication – possibly worse in particular aspects – because its purpose is not self-expression, but branding.
A cliché that is thrown around a lot is to “watch what you post on social media”. This makes some intuitive sense. If you post a video of yourself getting belligerent playing a drinking game that the Community Code explicitly forbids, then you are likely to get in trouble in an extremely public fashion. When we’re goaded into “watching what you post”, the point is to not ruin your life by permanently putting out something embarrassing for the whole world to see. Yet there’s something strange about this – you’re not being told to avoid certain behaviours, but instead to simply keep them concealed. By telling people to “watch what you post”, what’s being encouraged is a superficial layer that few other means of communication can offer and that allows one to essentially edit out all-too-human flaws.
One of the things which many credible op-ed columnists often moan about is the “latest thing” that the self-obsessed millennial generation has ruined. The decline of everything from diamonds to dish detergent to good old-fashioned capitalism has been pinned on us, the youth chained to our glowing screens. Of course, these columnists might be missing the fact that diamonds, dish detergent, and good old-fashioned capitalism aren’t things which we particularly need anymore. Furthermore, the cellphone generation isn’t going anywhere. The leading faces of elite opinion have missed a much more interesting critique. Take, for example, a series of self-branding tips from Huffington Post’s Insta czar, Kiki von Glinlow, offered at inc.com for the discerning reader. "Who do you want to be," Von Glinow demands "and what does that representation of yourself or brand do to cultivate the audience you want?"
Now that’s some creepy stuff. Here, from the mouth of an expert in social media and self-promotion, we see a suggestion to abandon any form of personal identity and reduce ourselves to empty and easily-digestible images. Let go of what is genuine, real, messy, and controversial! Let loose every flaw, every doubt, and every failing! After all, social media awaits; where the greatest art is self-erasure and the only sin is not scrubbing hard enough. French philosopher Guy Debord referred to this sanitized forest of images as the “spectacle”, a construct of surpassing banality and paralysis. “Spectacle”, Debord wrote, “is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity”. In other words, if we are all “who we want to be” and can “cultivate the audience we want”, then the world of branded social media can only be a frictionless and ultimately flat substitution for reality. It possesses no conflict, no defining challenges, no struggles, and – therefore – no true action or spontaneity.
Put aside all the BS about protecting your future, and this is what “watch what you post” comes down to. If people were really interested in making sure you didn’t trip up, then they’d advise you to avoid making politically doubtful jokes or running towards liver failure by way of little plastic cups and ping-pong balls. People who tell you to watch what you post, whether they acknowledge it or not, aren’t really after that. They’re after what all the Glinlows of the world are. Instead of struggling to change
yourself, just change your image. It’s a much easier path to take and – more to the point – it’s much more commercially viable. This way, you can enjoy whatever misbehaviours you want and transgress as much as you’d like, so long as it never gets posted. That which is not posted is not public, and therefore cannot present any damage to anyone’s image. As long as what we post and how we brand ourselves remains inoffensive and banal, it will be met with lassitude and inaction. As long as “watch what you post” and the cult of self-branding persist, then society will be plagued with apathy, superficiality, and profound moral emptiness. This vision of society is of the kind that can only be summed up by the Conservative Party of Canada pumping out glossily-edited cycling gif-quotes about the evils of political personal branding superimposed over the touched-up smiling face of Andrew Scheer.
Where does this lead us? Of course, don’t post yourself doing things you shouldn’t. But perhaps the more obvious suggestion is to simply not do those things in the first place so you don’t have to worry about them embarrassing you. Social media is not (despite the best efforts of many) for personal branding. You are not a corporation and, no matter how hard the Wendy’s twitter account tries to convince you otherwise, corporations are not human. Social media’s attempted blurring of the lines between image and reality must be rebelled against. So ultimately you should watch what you post. Yet when you interact with social media, go at it unafraid and as your true self. Aim for self-expression, not selfie-expression. Social media has the ability to create a blank, “immense accumulation of spectacles”, but respond furiously to anyone who urges you – consciously or not – to take part in this process. There’s more to life than insta fame.