Director's Cut: Beware of Putting Emphasis on Social Media Notoriety and Fame (Q1 2021)

If you’ve already read my feature on trolling and online harassment in the Q1 issue (if not, you can read it now), you’ll have read Melanie Ensign’s wise words warning us to be wary of how much emphasis and creed we apply to social media status.

“As an industry, we put too much value and emphasis on social media notoriety and fame in terms of how we value each other as professionals and how we value our own self-worth,” Melanie told me. “If someone says something mean to you on social media and it has such an impact on how you view yourself, then that is something you need to think about. How much energy are you willing to invest into your social media persona? If you want to engage on this platform and you choose it, be aware of the fact that there are incredibly unkind and immature people on this platform and you need to be resilient.”

She’s right, of course. Twitter should come with a warning: “Danger of unwelcome opinions and comments.” As my online harassment feature sadly highlights, there’s also a danger of a lot worse.

Anyway, Melanie got me thinking – am I guilty of rating people or judging people based purely on their social media presence? As a journalist, it’s a treasure trove of news, opinion, story leads, information and contacts. I spend a considerable amount of time lurking on the platform, learning about what’s troubling the industry, what’s relevant, what’s getting the sector excited or angry.

Companies will become reluctant to hire people whose personal brand is so big that they don’t represent the company rightMelanie Ensign

Of course, Twitter does amplify the voices of those that seek to be amplified. It’s a platform, both literally and metaphorically, which gives people exposure. As a writer, it’s easy to speak to the people who want to speak out. Those most prolific on social media are typically those who are happy to offer comments for articles, speak at events and respond to requests for interviews. Sometimes, they are the best and most-qualified people to offer those opinions or talks, but we must make sure that we’re looking beyond those blue ticks or those five-figure follower counts.

Perhaps we have put an inaccurate and disproportionate amount of value on social media perception. Perhaps, as an industry, we’re putting our social media personas on a pedestal, and become frankly outraged should anyone dare throw rotten tomatoes at them.

“Over time, people have started thinking that their Twitter brand is what will make them successful or create opportunities,” mused Melanie, “but I think it’s the opposite. Companies will become reluctant to hire people whose personal brand is so big that they don’t represent the company right.”

Ed Tucker is playing to the beat of the same drum. “We’ve put too much importance on name and personal brand,” he told me. “You see it bleeding into conferences – people invited to speak based on their name rather than expertise.

“So many big industry names are easily manipulated on social media. You see certain tactics being used; what starts off as a conversation or a disagreement then evolves into trying to get your followers to jump into the argument too. It’s all part of the gamification.”

A lot of anxiety around trolling relates to reputation and how you will be perceived as a victim. It’s important to remember that not everyone’s opinion matters – you don’t need a huge social media following to be successful in your career and you should not look to social media to determine your self-worth.

Trolls aren’t the gatekeepers of our careers, so while we can’t fix trolls, we can give ourselves – and others – a softer landing when they strike.

Trolls aren’t the gatekeepers of our careers, so while we can’t fix trolls, we can give ourselves – and others – a softer landing when they strike.

It was my observations from Twitter lurking that led me to write the feature on trolling and online harassment. The interviews I did for this feature were intense, sometimes shocking, sometimes heart-breaking, and in all honesty, cut deep. It was a tough ride, but it’s a topic that matters, it’s an area that deserves reporting and my hope is that it will raise awareness about something that is making some of our peers’ lives hell.

As an industry that struggles to attract new talent, we need to take a long hard look at how we treat people from behind a keyboard. I heard “I wish I’d never come into this industry” and “I’d warn people not to get involved” way too many times.

If you see someone being harassed online, speak up. I don’t mean publically, feeding the troll feeds its ego. Instead, reach out to that person privately, remind them they’re great and afford them that softer landing they deserve.

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