Thursday, March 1, 2012

Do You Hide Behind A Social Media Alter Ego?

A few weeks ago, I was captivated by the news of Caterpillar closing its plant in London, Ontario.  Although it wasn't confirmed, it was widely suggested that the company was moving the jobs to a plant in Muncie, Indiana, a town that has been decimated by the American economic recession.  After reading a news story in the Muncie Star Press, I decided to add a comment from a Canadian point of view.  After I typed my comment, I hit submit and received a message stating that, in order to preserve the integrity of the comments section and keep it clean, all commenters are required to log in through their Facebook page so that their photo and real name will accompany their comment.

With my finger hovering over the keyboard, I thought about this for a couple of minutes before deciding not to submit my comment.  What scared me away?  I am not a troll who posts derogatory, inflammatory or offensive comments in response to news stories. I don't use profanity, never berate other posters and make every attempt to keep my comments on-topic and not go off on ridiculous tangents.  That said, I guess I'm not quite ready to be completely transparent with my personal opinions when it comes to highly-charged stories.  The few times I shared my honest opinion on the Caterpillar story - that the union had to accept at least some responsibility for the outcome - most people became enraged and spouted sentences that started with, "It's people like you..."

As an educated person working in a (mostly) creative profession, living in a (mostly) progressive city in a (mostly) democratic country, I feel like I exist in a network where certain opinions, attitudes and outlooks are considered normal and appropriate.  Our profession seems to be dominated by people who are slightly left of centre when it comes to issues of a political or social nature and sometimes it feels like there is no room for someone to diverge from popular opinion. It's almost like there are a set of opinions that are considered the "right" opinions on topics like religion, unions, politicians, climate change, poverty, etc. and when someone tries to share a different thought, even if it's only a slight variation on the commonly accepted viewpoint, it is not always accepted in the spirit of debate.

For example, while I can see how someone like Toronto mayor, Rob Ford turns many people off, I am not in complete disagreement with all of his ideas. I feel like I'm intelligent enough to make this assertion and I generally do my own research before forming opinions.  However, judging from the end-of-the-world tone of the local Twittersphere when he was elected, I don't know if I'd be comfortable sharing this on Twitter.

Some people have gone so far as to set up Twitter alter egos so that they might have their professional, politically-correct Twitter handles with their own photo, as well as another, anonymous one that they use when they need to put someone in their place or share an opinion that could be unpopular.  I know some of these people personally. They are not crazy right-wing nutcases with wild opinions but they are savvy enough to know that holding certain opinions is tantamount to professional and/or social media suicide.   The alter ego idea appeals to me but I don't trust my ability to keep my two accounts separate so it's a recipe for disaster.

As I write this, it occurs to me that I might be too sensitive.  A friend said to me once that if you're afraid to annoy people on social media you're not doing it right.  It's food for thought and I'm seriously considering it. But will you still like me?


  1. It annoys me a bit the Facebook requirement, not because of needing to show your real name, more because it shows it as a given that everyone would have a Facebook profile. What if some people don't? I do know some people that don't have one.

  2. I totally agree. Many people don't see the need to have a Facebook page and even some of those who do, would prefer to keep it more private.