Friday, 17 January 2014

Blurring the limits between personal and professional life

María Belén Conti is a student in the Social Media MA at the University of Westminster.

As a journalist, I usually find myself in a difficult situation when it comes to social media: would it affect my job opportunities if I openly express my opinion of certain topics online as my friends do? Should I always be professional because if anything personal is filtered I will lose my credibility (major asset for a journalist)?

Some may say that the best solution is to have two different profiles, one for personal and other professional proposes (EFE, 2011; Restrepo, 2012). But again, the personal profile is there and the chance of information, opinions or photos filtering to audiences we don’t want to reach is still high.

“You have one identity...The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly... Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”, said Mark Zuckerberg (quoted in Meikle and Young, 2012, p.129). But is that really the case?

As Erving Goffman (1959) points out in his book The presentation of self in everyday life, we are always performing different roles to different audiences: “When an individual appears in front of others, he knowingly and unwillingly projects a definition of situation, of which a conception of himself is an important part” (p.234-235).

In other words, we won’t show the same persona in our work, in front of our family or with our friends. And that doesn’t make us lose our integrity, even if Zuckerberg doesn’t agree. Those different audiences have different expectations of us, and therefore we will highlight those aspects that better fit the “front” we want to show in each performance.

But, what happens when social and networked media mix those audiences? What if they get access to the back stage that we want to keep private? After all, as Goffman points out, usually we relax when we know we are not being watched. However, with the increased visibility online, those chances are reduced. As Meikle and Young (2012) explain, “convergent media make the invisible visible” (p.129). So that brings me back to the beginning of this post: how does that affect our lives? Are the limits between professional and personal life blurred?

To address this issue, the concept of Foucault’s Panopticon is useful. It implies that the permanent visibility make us modify our behaviour, being more cautious than what we would be if not being watched (Thompson, 1995; Meikle and Young, 2012). I find it interesting that a study among long-distance students (Bregman and Haythornthwaite, 2003) -whose assignments include regular blogposts - confirm that we pay more attention to what we say and how we say it when we know we are being observed and that our contributions may be searched later:

“Every opinion, however well expressed, every joke, turn of phrase, and typographical error remains preserved, leaving a written legacy of an individual’s persona and style” (p.124-125).

The same can be said about photos, videos and opinions we publish online. If something is on the Internet, you cannot be sure it won’t be filtered. Even if we have good management of our privacy settings, our friends may comment or share that post and they may have different privacy settings than ours. So if we don’t want to risk something becoming publically available perhaps we better not publish it anywhere on the Internet.

References:

Bregman, A. and Haythornthwaite, C.(2003). Radicals of presentation: visibility, relation, and co-presence in persistent conversation. New Media & Society, 5 (1), 117-140. [online] Available from: Sage Publications. < http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.90.6651&rep=rep1&type=pdf> [Accessed 30 November 2013]

EFE News Agency. (2011). Guía para empleados de EFE en redes sociales (Guide for EFE’s employees in social media). [online] Available from: <http://www.efe.com/FicherosDocumentosEFE/Gu%C3%ADaEFE-Redes.pdf> [Accessed 1 December 2013]

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Meikle, G. and Young, S. (2012). Media convergence: networked and digital media in everyday life, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Restrepo, H (2012). Borrador manual de estilo en redes sociales (Draft style guidelines for social media). [online] Available from: <http://es.scribd.com/doc/113601191/Borrador-Manual-de-Estilo-en-Redes-Sociales-Hernan-Restrepo> [Accessed 30 November 2013]

Thompson, J. (1995). The media and modernity: a social theory of the media, Cambridge: Polity Press

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