Social media factoring into your job search has become a common discussion lately. There is a lot of debate on whether your social media presence plays a role in gaining employment. I recently read an article on Learnvest.com written by Libby Kane titled “Could Staying off Facebook Hurt You?” that raises many questions about identity, authenticity, privacy and voyeurism.
What I find interesting about Kane’s article is that she takes a 360-degree approach to this topic. That is to say, while her own discourse is consistent, she provides alternative perspectives.
I would argue that Kane frames her argument with a social shaping discourse. In her book “Personal Connections In The Digital Age” Nancy Baym describes social shaping as “a middle ground ,” (44) meaning it is somewhere between technological determinism – technology alone influences us – and social construction of technology – we have all the control. I think her discourse becomes abundantly clear when she states, “the mere existence of a Facebook profile won’t make or break your job search. And the experts disagree on whether having a Facebook profile helps or hurts your odds of getting a job.”
Kane’s statement is a clear balance between technological determinism and social construction discourse, taking neither side of the argument. But I think what is key in her choice of words is her use of existence. For me, it raises this question: to exist, do we need to maintain an identity in the physical world and the digital world?
Kane does not ask that question, but she answers it in a roundabout way by saying “your safest bet seems to be maintaining a basic profile.” So in other words, she isn’t sure, but better safe than sorry. Therefore she surrenders to the notion that our existence may be defined by the convergence of both worlds.
Keeping that in mind, she does imply that your identity within the space is yours to control, and what you broadcast is up to you. However, the technology does provide the means for influence. So you probably should consider what you broadcast. She offers prescriptions for how to present yourself within the space, and consider the content you allow others to see.
While some of her prescriptions seem like common sense, to some, it may not.
Kidding aside, instructions on how to present oneself within the space raise questions about authenticity.
This idea of conforming to a standard presentation of self reminds me of what Michael Wesch says about authenticity in his video“An anthropological introduction to YouTube.” Like Youtube, Facebook allows people a freedom to be honest about who they are. Therefore, you could claim that if we must replicate a common look, we are abandoning authenticity, and the space is no longer a platform to be honest about who we are.
Kane’s article also raises questions about privacy. Again, what is true with Youtube is true with Facebook. Wesch makes the point that sometimes content that is intended to be private can become public. Therefore, when we post content on Facebook, we should ask ourselves who may see it, and who do you want to see it? This goes beyond what you want employers to see, you need to ask yourself how much of you do you want to share with literally everyone?
For some, being honest to themselves, that is being authentic, is sharing intimate details of their physical and emotional selves. Others may choose a more conservative approach in maintaining their honest virtual identity. Or they may not have an online identity at all. Therefore I think there should be no expectations on how you should present yourself, or what content you allow others to see.
Voyeurism is also at play here. The mere suggestion that employers are using Facebook to check out applicants illustrates that employers are on the outside looking in. Wesch points out how a social network like YouTube lends itself to that by providing a window to gaze into without being seen or identified. Facebook also has the same potential, and, as Kane illustrates, some employers are taking advantage of the opportunity to peek in on a candidate.
While I see voyeurism as a natural occurrence given the “affordances” (44) of the medium, I don’t think we should be alarmed by the thought of human resources specialists stalking our wall. And I imagine that future discourses on this will sway more towards the domestication of technology. That is to say that employers checking out our social media pages will become a routine process that people will grow less weary of.
I was a teenager in the 90s (I know you can’t believe it with my fresh face, and boyish charm). I had American Online in 1993 and became a “netizen” immediately. The Internet became the “thing” soon after, and there was a lot of argument over whether it would be a utopian or dystopian medium, and leaned towards technological determinism. However, now I seem to find more articles like Kane’s that point to a shift towards a balanced discourse. One in which evidence is given that technology provides tools for influence, but we still have choices. I also think that we are organically developing into a state where the number of netizens outweighs the number analogue citizens. So many of the anxieties revolving around social networking technology may lessen over time.