Leone Kraus has a fantastic article that covers the particular social media challenges for LGBT folks. As she points out, a guy who keeps his sexual orientation off-the-radar at work may find himself outed online if he’s tagged in a Facebook photo taken at a gay community event. Her post brings yet another nuance to the conversation about authenticity and makes specific recommendations about how to handle the question of transparency in the gay community:
When reflecting on “Should I be me?” my answer to the GLBT community is that you should be who you want your social media self to be. However, consider carefully the risks and benefits associated with the use of sites like Facebook and MySpace. Review your privacy settings carefully and consider checking them frequently.
Social media users should also consider the privacy of their peers and not post anything that exposes others, respecting their friends’ values. Maybe you’re openly gay on your profile like Chad but that doesn’t mean you need to go opening the closet door on your peers.
What Leone’s post highlights is that authenticity isn’t an abstract virtue: it’s a practice with concrete implications for our lives and relationships. Sometimes we are strategic about how we represent our authentic selves online, but the motivations for that selective self-representation vary enormously. I feel very sympathetic to someone who remains strategically discreet online about their sexual orientation in order to hold onto their job, but I find it harder to appreciate someone who is strategically, relentlessly self-promoting in order to win a new client.
But for all I know, there is an explanation for all that self-promotion that is every bit as understandable as the gay guy who’s just trying to hang onto a job. If there’s one more lesson I would add to Leone’s list, it’s that the nuances of being out online should remind us that many people have life situations and circumstances we don’t know about — circumstances that can explain online behaviours that otherwise perplex us. Before you judge someone’s authenticity online, consider the possibility that they could have valiid reasons for selective self-disclosure.