Authenticity: How I get, keep it, and stay real in the age of social media
- of undisputed origin; genuine.
For at least a couple of years now, we’ve been discussing social media-related depression and the fact that a great deal of what we share on social media is sanitized for maximum agreeability. We been tunin’ faces, tuckin’ waists (…es), croppin’ things (and folks) out, airbrushin’ stretch marks, and filtering to the gods.
Within my friend circles, the conversation has blossomed allowing us to really dissect social media and our use of it. As a result, I’ve noticed something else: an almost insidious shift from airbrushed highlight reels to not-so-authentic-authenticity.
Let me explain.
There’s been a migration from treating our lives like photoshoot sets for applause (of which I am guilty) to bearing our souls in the name of vulnerability and authenticity… Only, we’re doing it for the same reason we formerly filtered (or probably still are) everything — for attention.
If real truly recognizes real, then we should not feign surprise.
The “Don’t be like the rest of them, be authentic” advice is inspiring and motivating AF, until it’s not.
Because what we don’t grapple with (not REALLY) in the age of social media, is how to identify and maintain our authentic selves when using platforms that constantly call for us to be anything but. So, what do we do? We overshare under the guise of honesty with no rhyme or reason except — if we are all-the-way real about it — to see the retweets and likes roll in.
In 2016, a friend told me I was now an ‘influencer’ because I had over 1,000 followers and thousands of retweets. Uh, ok. Cool. So, how is this functional?
If I did indeed have even the slightest measure of influence, then I wanted to make it count. I didn’t want to stay stuck in the trap of posting content just for likes and retweets. I wanted to make whatever I said and did actually…influential. The only question was, “How?”
The best way I knew was by being unequivocally honest.
I kept asking myself,
“ How can I truly tell the difference between honesty for connection and transparency’s sake and honesty for likes and followers?
In years past, I was one of the people flooding my timeline with opinions on EVERYTHING. Even when my opinion was fruitless I felt compelled to stay relevant — whatever that even means anymore.
So, at the end of 2016, I decided to get to the truth of my motivations before posting to social media. If at any point during this personal interrogation I discovered that my intentions were anything but pure, then I chose not to post until I got to the heart of the matter and could post with no ulterior motive.
Not only has this practice kept me from selling out privately, it has expanded my understanding of authenticity, vulnerability, and connection — especially within the context of social media.
I want to share what I have unpacked. Here is how I gauge whether or not I am truly being authentic or if I’m just doing it for The ‘Gram/The Tweets/The Book:
How To Be Authentic (…For Real This Time)
1. I should NOT be cutting myself open for connection.
If I think to myself, “I want to share this.” The very next question should be, “Why do I want to share this?”
Authenticity is as much about the motive as it is about the subsequent movement.
When I share details of my life with the masses prematurely, I can subject others to the trauma of my wounds with no remedy at the ready. Just gore. This reality makes it crucial to take my platforms seriously and to use them as someone committed to wholeness.
Wholeness — or working toward it — is the best place from which to engage.
By no means do I want to suck the fun out of social media, but the realities are what they are and our responsibilities are real.
Asking “Why?” and being honest about the motive is always the first step to being authentic. It reveals where I am whole or where I am sick. And I can’t pour my sickness into the ether, hoping for any kind of response and then wonder why I can’t seem to find authentic connection. It’s going to be ten types of difficult to tell if we are getting the truest versions of one another if no one is committed to wholeness and not just its picture. We don’t have to open a vein to up our follower count.
Being (or committing to getting) whole is a first step because it gives us a clear and trustworthy foundation from which to express ourselves. When we don’t really know who we are, we are liable to do or say anything to get what we want. This is a disservice to anyone within our radius and it stamps as the opposite of what we’re going for.
I am not a side show. I do not have to perform in my dysfunction for validation.
2. I should only ever share what is grounded in truth.
More than a few people have gotten their hats handed to them on social media for embellishing the truth for greater response. If you didn’t know by now, you better ask somebody: SOCIAL MEDIA STAYS WITH THE RECEIPTS!
“Is what I want to share true?” is always the next batter up on the authenticity checklist for me. Not just out of fear that someone will find out if I lied, but because if I am committed to wholeness and authenticity stripped to its bare bones — I want to be truthful. I want whatever impact I could ever have to be born of my true lived experiences and not contrived because I don’t value my story enough to share it in its essence.
3. At the very least, I should do no harm.
The third question I ask myself is, “Is what I want to share harmful?”
Primum non nocere is the Latin phrase for “Do no harm”. It is part of the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take to uphold ethical standards in their practice. By asking myself if what I want to share is harmful I eliminate destination-less rants and bashing of any kind. It pulls me closer into my personal commitment to affirming myself and others.
So, that sting I want to post to get back at an ex? Yeah nah.
The rant I could thread about co-workers? Nope.
And don’t misunderstand — venting needs to happen sometimes. We are human and we have a range of emotions. The idea, though, is to know your audience. Everything ain’t for everybody. Sometimes we do more harm than good by “keeping it real” in spaces it wasn’t supposed to be shared.
If I’ve truly committed to pure motives and truth, negativity will not find a place to rest amidst my content. Or if it does, it will be weeded out before it can take root and disrupt anyone else’s journey.
Self-checks — like paychecks — are crucial to living life well both on and off social media and consistency is always key. How do you check yourself to make sure you’re showing up as the authentic version of you?