Online Personas: Promotion vs. Avoidance

What part of you do you want to present to the world? How will the choices you make online affect your life? While I believe there are plenty of people who engage in activities online without giving it much thought, the truth is we should all think about what we post online, whether it be pictures, politics, or even parts of our personalities. Studies have been conducted, as this article explains, showing that “there’s little correlation between how people act on the Internet and how they are in person,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve given this a lot of thought lately. I recently self-published my book and have done a little here and there to market it. I’ve read a lot online about what authors should do when promoting their work, and creating an online presence is one of the most common suggestions.

In what ways and places should authors create and present their online presence? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your own blog? The options really are endless. I created this website to highlight a little bit about myself and my work, and one of the suggestions given to authors is to regularly post in an online blog-type format. So, here I am. But what do I write? Honestly, I prefer writing something that I can use in my next book than posting something here that may or may not be read by one or two individuals, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thoughts and experiences I may have that wouldn’t necessarily work in a book but would be fine shared in a blog post. Again, what to write, though…

Our lives are complex, and our thoughts are regularly engaged by social, political, and economic forces. Not everything, though, is really appropriate or necessary to share online. There are also plenty of ideas that may be appropriate to be discussed, but not necessarily by you. I watch a number of YouTube videos by individuals that I respect and I value their opinions politically, but do I want to add my political voice to theirs? As an author, I would never want my work to be overlooked simply because someone disagrees with my political beliefs, or other beliefs not related to politics. On the other hand, I believe wholeheartedly in my political, social, and religious leanings, so why wouldn’t I stand firm in those beliefs?

It isn’t that I’m advocating for self-censorship or hiding your beliefs, but I think it’s important to really think about what we should and shouldn’t say, given our goals and desires online. Whereas some may argue, as the aforementioned article, that “people tend to exaggerate their personas because they have much more time to revise and calculate the content they present than in spontaneous face-to-face interactions,” I think that time for revision and calculation can also lead people to do the opposite. We may minimize or play down specific parts of our personas online so as not to offend or drive people away. Whether or not you have a physical product to sell (like a book), our online presence itself is a product. Social media personas all beg for followers and likes, whether you’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever else comes out in the next year or two. Ironically, social media also tends to lead to quite a bit of nastiness and anger directed at people, both friends and strangers.

Recently, I’ve been reading about all the twitter exchanges surrounding the UN climate meetings this week. It seems as though everyone, including the President, has to comment on what they think about Greta Thunberg and her impassioned speech at the UN. I have my own opinions about climate change, both the science and the media that discusses it, but do I want to jump into the ring, so to speak? Honestly, I’m happy to discuss my opinions with anyone in private conversation, but when it comes to such heated topics online, it seems as though there’s no way to engage in such discussions without devolving into animosity and looking down at the other side. That is not a place I feel is worth my time or energy. Still, I do believe completely in my opinions, and I believe these subjects affect us all, but…

In the end, it seems as though a lot of questions come down to whether or not one wants to promote or avoid a cause. Still, promotion of one cause may hinder promotion of another. Often, when an online personality attempts to present a specific argument, they are drawn into completely different arguments. I see this all the time among political commentators. One individual makes an argument regarding freedom of speech, and quickly they become embroiled in a world of discussion regarding hate and subjects they really had no intention of engaging in. Their words are skewed and misapplied in ways that they have to defend themselves and further explain that their original point had nothing to do with whatever other controversial point someone decided they were arguing. Ultimately, discussions end up taking people far from their intended purpose. Some of the hatred spewed at individuals and groups is so intense that they completely abandon social media. As Bob Iger says, “the nastiness is extraordinary.”

So, is it better to promote or avoid? In the world of social media, I’m afraid there really aren’t easy answers. Regardless of what we choose to say, I think it’s probably a good idea to maintain one universal principle: Be nice.