i dream of being possible

iconoclasm and the sanitation of social media

I got into a quick twitter convo with @nnschiller about one of the few good articles on the sanitization of social media1:

When I conducted my fieldwork, “self-branding,” the notion of thinking of oneself as a brand marketed online, was a strategy marketed primarily to white-collar professionals. Since then, it has become a staple of career counseling. I’ve met people ranging from high-school students to makeup artists who speak earnestly of their “personal brand” and diligently follow advice given in self-help books and seminars.

I’ve tweeted before how much I absolutely loathe the notion and idea of self-branding and how, by and large, I refuse to participate in this sort of thing. And, as the writer points out, this sort of ‘personal branding’ doesn’t work in many fields and (as the writer alludes to but doesn’t discuss) the ability to build a ‘good’ personal brand is highly dependent on more than a few factors people often can’t change (race, gender, class, etc.).

The general inducement for people to not use social media to socialize (in whatever way they actually socialize vs. ‘networking) is super irritating, especially in light of this:

Always self-censoring with the idea that an employer is looking makes it impossible for any sort of genuine self-expression, and also sets the idea that corporations should have veto power over how we use the most powerful medium of self-publishing ever invented. Ironically, this admonishment is often couched in a wishy-washy veneer of “authenticity.” Self-branding experts will advise to always “be yourself” on social media, not simply for personal expression, but to attract audiences. Authenticity, then, is not about “being yourself,” but about fitting into a very narrow box built by a profit-driven enterprise.

Which is pretty typical of the contradictory and, ultimately, oppressive nature of 99% of advice on how to be professional. Even if both statements do appear to be true at the same time. Few people enjoy following social media accounts that exist for purely professional reasons (and you know exactly the kind of account that I mean). On the other hand, people will get annoyed/upset about ‘trivial’ social media accounts (and, again, you know what I mean).

And like most oppressive advice, there is no winning in such a system. But (unsurprisingly) the people who operate most successfully within this sphere just happen to be those already privileged within the system. Shocker.

It suddenly occurs to me that most of the stories I’ve read about people getting punished for social media faux pas have been otherwise privileged people (often white, often cis, obviously already employed in a white collar/other high status position). One wonders if the reason for this is because succeeding as a marginalized person within today’s economy and social environment usually means that you have been walking this tight rope for many years and are very practiced at appearing respectable (which takes more work, the more overlapping axes of oppression you experience). You’ve already learned to ensure that your race/class/gender/sexuality/whatever2 either do not come into the workplace or, if they do, only do so in a sanitized, inoffensive manner, all while navigating stereotyping (inclusive of stereotype threat), bias, and discrimination.

Er… Okay. That was totally a tangent. I really wanted this post to be about this tweet:

@satifice Right. It’s NOT being a fearless iconoclast. I’m working through how to respond to this train of thought.

And this notion of being an iconoclast… While I do know that this sort of thing is part of some people’s personas and how they engage in life (professional and private), it made me realize (since I also asserted that I refuse to play the ‘always be professional on social media’ personal branding game), that my motivations are definitely not this.

My current status as a professional is tenuous and I’m definitely amongst the vulnerable workers3 at MPOW. However, I don’t do as I do on this blog or in social media because I have some notion that I’ll be able to challenge or change the system from within. I do it simply because I’ve grown tired of trying to exist as less than human in life (professional or otherwise).

I do as I do because I’m a human being. I have feelings. My life is occassionally (often) trivial to most people who aren’t me. I have problems. I also have many joys. I am transpinay. I’m a tech enthusiast about to start learning how to code.

At the end of the day, I’d much rather face professional ramifications for being too human than failing because I couldn’t find a path in the ever shifting normative definition of ‘professionalism’ already designed to exclude me.

  1. Now, to be clear, this article is more about the changing culture and the implications, as opposed to one of the many articles shaming people for using social media for its intended purposes (eg, socializing). 

  2. Basically some of the most essential parts of who you are. 

  3. Although, have I mentioned that my contract got renewed and I’ve got another year of employment? Not sure about next year ‘cause they slashed the PT budget this year and I survived the cut because of reasons.