Social Media Do’s and Don’t’s

In the Chicago Tribune article “Social Media Do-Overs,” Scott Kleinberg discusses a major change that will be coming to social media sites and search engines in California over the next few years.  According to the article, effective January 2015, there will be a law put into place called the “eraser button” law which will force companies to allow their clients to delete their accounts or search histories, and start new profiles that are completely from scratch.  Kleinberg, however, does not see this as plausible and instead offers ways to mediate and control your social media sites so that you will not feel the need to delete them and start again.

In the next portion of his piece, Kleinberg gives five short pieces of advice regarding how teens and young adults should use their social media in ways that do not offend anyone.  His first recommendation is that every tweet or post on a social media site should pass “the grandma test,” meaning that a user should not share anything that he or she did not feel comfortable telling his or her grandmother about. 

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The concept of tweeting “for your grandma” tries to reconcile what Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd call “context collapse,” the idea that it is hard to tell who is reading your posts at any given moment and it is impossible to know who has seen your tweets and who will be looking at them in the future.

However, in trying to navigate this inevitable context collapse, some might worry about a lack of authenticity in their social media accounts.  In her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym discusses the tensions that exist between honesty and anonymity in the online world and the way that expressing one’s “real” self online and be both liberating and empowering.  Though Kleinberg urges users of social media to watch their mouths, respect everyone, and to not post anything that is too risqué, this might be limiting teens’ growth and formation of identities.  Though Kleinberg’s advice is certainly logical, perhaps experiencing these sites in completely authentic ways could help teens to learn lessons for themselves and understand when the right time and place is for certain behaviors. 

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These ideas are further elaborated upon by Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell in the article “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities: Young People and New Social Technologies.”  Weber and Mitchell affirm that adolescents are constantly “changing, converging, and morphing” and are doing so with the use of all different types of media.  Through this constant modification of identity, adolescent social media users “construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct” their identities.  Because of this reality, the authors would likely not emphasize the importance or relevance of specific tweets in the past, but rather focus on the most present information as crucial for understanding the adolescents’ identities.  Kleinberg, on the other hand, worries that social media is actually very different from texting, and that messages that users post could be duplicated and follow them around for the rest of their lives.

Zizi Papacharissi deals with the conflict between privacy and publicity that social media sites create in a somewhat different way than the other authors.  Papacharissi believes that social media users choose their language to perform their identities, which are constructed through the creation of everyday narratives.  She also discusses her ideas about how users can differentiate between audiences, including by crafting polysemic messages, where many people can have alternative interpretations of particular social media posts.  Kleinberg would likely see great benefit in this technique, as these messages would not be overtly controversial and would rather be esoteric in their unconventional meanings.  Papacharissi also discusses how authenticity and intimacy on social media sites are derived from certain behaviors, meaning authenticity is only a performance.  Kleinberg would again probably agree with these assertions since he tends to dislike authenticity if it is too scandalous. 

Finally, Kleinberg urges social media users to be careful at all times, especially if representing a specific brand or company.  Though Kleinberg understands that you have liberties when you are not at work directly for the brand (i.e. when it is not 9-5), he still believes that your posts on social media sites can be shared or duplicated, and that mistakes you make can potentially follow you around and harm you in the future.  This final suggestion parallels Marwick and Boyd’s ideas that posting with the least common denominator in mind might be the best way to run a social media account.  And, even though Kleinberg would probably not agree, there are also options to use multiple accounts or pseudonyms to protect your reputation, though there is never a guarantee that your identity would remain unexposed.  

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