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The Authenticity Backlash: Are You In?

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Feeling grumpy? Me, too, and my informal research indicates that we are not alone. Something has gone awry in the Twitterverse.  No, I am not referring to the Twitpocalypse. Rather than ignore this creeping feeling, let’s discuss it.

Recently several Twitter events left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Many others are also not their usual easy-going selves. Flaring tempers, personalized attacks and a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality have crept into that I once deemed a safe place to mull ideas, discuss conflicting points of view and be my quirky, eccentric self without expecting personal attacks. Others have attempted to explain the recent increase of snarky attacks on astrology. I wish it were that simple to explain, but I don’t think we can blame it on the stars.

My anecdotal evidence:

  • A friend mentioned that the recent negative vibes on Twitter were contagious, causing her to feel under attack. Several others chimed in and readily agreed. Typically positive folks, all rattled by the increasing frequency of their tweets being misunderstood and resulting in extreme reactions.

  • Another friend with a large Twitter following remarked that more frequent negative interaction caused him to limit his level of engagement, frequency and transparency. He is considering abandoning Twitter completely.

  • Several friends and followers suggested that I monitor my outgoing tweets more carefully to avoid my words being taken out of context and sending an unintended message. (Huh? I thought I define my boundaries in this place!)

I think this is authenticity backlash, or the result of a semi-public sphere going mainstream. Now that Twitter has attracted a larger audience, there is a sense that Big Brother has entered the room, and he is not going away anytime soon. Big Brother has many of us on edge, questioning and defending Twitter (and ourselves). Corporations and celebrities are using and misusing Twitter and then publicizing its flaws. Trolls are multiplying beyond Twitter’s ability to quash them, and they are amping up their efforts to incite negative reactions. With so many people looking for chinks in the armor, should we be surprised that they have found them? It is only logical that increased scrutiny makes authenticity more difficult, but I am not ready to throw in the towel.

Online authenticity is a new phenomenon, and we are just now exploring it’s complexities. Each of us has the option to self-censor, to protect our reputations and public identities. Personally I am unwilling to spend my time honing my tweets to ensure that they are morsels of perfection. I propose that we accept the inevitable trade-off that online authenticity demands. Online communication is a medium that lends itself to misunderstandings, and if you increase the size of the network, the rate of misunderstandings is likely to increase.

Let’s take responsibility and remind ourselves that many of us opt-in to Twitter to be ourselves and to interact with others eager to do the same. This only works if we agree to follow a simple rules: debate without personalizing, respect others’ personal boundaries, don’t take yourself or others too seriously, own up to screw ups, etc…basic golden rules, right? The kicker is to also accept that each of us will break these rules from time to time, because we are, after all, human. Authenticity requires acknowledging human imperfections including crappy moods, hot tempers, dropping F-bombs, drunk tweets, occasional stupidity, the list goes on…

Do you really want to hold a grudge, seek revenge and remain grumpy or recognize that growing pains are an inevitable part of Twitter (and each of us) growing up? Let’s admit, it is getting crowded in here, but there is still plenty of room for each of us. It’s okay to be grumpy, I was when I started writing, but I feel better already. The note in the movie, Juno, said it best: If you’re still in, I am in.

I will end this as I end and begin most conversations, with a question: Are you in?

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