Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Showing your face

Does not being on Facebook imply that you're deranged? I'd like to think not, given that some of my own good friends have, for good reasons, left or never joined. But I do think there's an obvious-if-you-think-about-it sense in which not sharing can be almost as self-defeating as sharing the wrong information. We hear all the time about how dangerous it is to put information about yourself online, lest a potential employer or similar find it. But what if the information reveals you to be a reasonable person who would along fine in an office? If Facebook means a return to small-town life, then opting out means accepting to be thought the town eccentric or worse.

And plenty of people do pick up on this, having an online presence despite being in fields where they need to seem ultra-professional, but crafting their personae in such a way as to show only the best and most work-friendly side. Not that these are people whose offline selves are terribly racy. It's just that the bits that are highlighted will tell the most positive story possible, the one most in keeping with how they wish to be perceived.

But it's not just about those somewhat in the public eye being careful. It's also that an online presence might reveal, say, that a woman enjoys shoe-shopping, reading Us Weekly, and hanging out with her friends. These might not be traits she would highlight in a job interview, but they reveal to potential employers that she's relatable, conventional, and not spending her spare time conspiracy-theorizing about the government. Whichever photos might reveal a non-work life, perhaps even silliness, social drinking, time spent on Facebook, things of that nature, but the net result might actually help her. This is an age of collaborative work, and even in fields where one expects a lack of social skills, social skills never hurt.

The unfortunate converse of all of this is that being someone who doesn't come across as friendly and normal on social media, while a drawback on the job market, is by no means the crime of the century. What we don't want is a society in which anyone who opts out of personal social media (updating your company's profile is something else), anyone who fails to demonstrate normalcy through these channels, to be automatically deemed suspicious in the homicidal-maniac sense of the term.

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