Nimue Brown has written a great article on various types of online performance, and how to remain authentic even while curating your online persona.
I try to keep my online persona as close to the real me as possible. But obviously you’re getting an edited version.
Work versus personal life
I remember back in the early nineties when it was necessary to be “in the broom closet” at work. I hated the sense of inauthenticity and the stress that that produced, even though I tried to be as close to the real me as possible at work.
Every time I went to a Pagan or Wiccan event, it felt like it took time to shed all the layers of all that and relax enough to be fully present. I was so pleased when I no longer felt the need to be in the broom closet.
I wrote my first book in 1992 and back then the “satanic panic” was very recent and there was some concern over whether putting your real name on a book about Paganism was the kiss of death to your employment prospects. I decided that I would use my real name, as I was and am proud of my books. It didn’t cause a problem. Funnily enough there were apparently a few people who thought Yvonne Aburrow was a pseudonym.
I think that the experience of being in the broom closet at work, along with attempting to write round robins that weren’t either a litany of disasters or a smug series of successes, shaped my feelings about being online. I didn’t write a round robin in 2011 because that was a relentlessly awful year. I took up writing them because I kept getting them from friends and mostly enjoying them, but there was this one friend who would send updates about all the stuff they did with their church, so I wrote ones with sentences like “the coven goes from strength to strength”. I still smile thinking of that. I like to think I succeeded in making my round robins balanced between happy stuff and sad stuff.
Layers of self
I went to an assertiveness course once (a decade before the World Wide Web really got going, and long before social media), and one of the concepts that was offered was the idea of different layers of the self, like an onion: there’s the public persona, the self you show to your friends, the self you show in really close relationships, and your innermost self. In most situations, we tend to keep the innermost self under wraps; this is totally natural and necessary to feel safe.
I don’t share my most intimate thoughts and feelings online or in books, but what I write, and how I interact online, does reflect my real values. I also try to keep a balance (neither all happy-happy, nor relentlessly mournful).
Dealing with conflict online
The hardest part is how to deal with trolls and people whose values are diametrically opposed, or otherwise very different, to mine.
I deplore the whole “competitive social justice warrior” thing, but I don’t think it is nearly as prevalent as people think.
Different types of social media each have their own pitfalls, and things that you might want to focus on. Hence the “Dolly Parton” meme that’s currently en vogue, of posting pictures of your various online personas on different social media platforms.
I try keep my “online personas” consistent across all these platforms, but because of the nature of the content shared, there is a difference in focus.
Farceborg, er, I mean Facebook
The reason I left Facebook was because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but I have to say that my mental health has improved massively since leaving it. One of the hardest things about Facebook is figuring out what it’s for. Is it for sharing your deepest feelings, or any feelings for that matter, or is it for sharing political posts? Or cheesy New Age memes (a personal pet hate of mine). What do you do when one of your friends turns out to have unpleasant political beliefs? How bad does it have to get before you unfriend them? Different people draw these boundaries in different places, and I often found myself simultaneously being shouted at by people who thought my boundaries were too strict, and other people who thought my boundaries were too lax. I also got really frustrated with groups with terrible moderation policies, allowing long libellous rants to remain in place, while asking people calling out abuse to take their posts down. The other thing that’s really irritating about Facebook is people not understanding what’s private and what’s not, and how the privacy settings on Facebook actually work. My thoughts, feelings, and photos are private unless I explicitly set them to public. Any article links that I shared were fine to share on, because if you share an article that someone posts, it’s not accompanied by their comments on it. Also I want people to share my blogposts, as I write stuff on my blog so people will read it.
Even thinking and writing about Facebook raises my blood pressure. Ugh.
On Instagram and Twitter, your entire account is either public or private: much simpler.
I know that Instagram is owned and run by Facebook but it feels less invasive and awful than Facebook. For a start, there’s no groups, you can’t share other people’s posts without downloading a separate app for the purpose, people don’t generally get into huge political debates, and the algorithm for the feed doesn’t seem as manipulated as the one on Facebook. Also, it’s all about sharing photos you have taken of nice things you’ve seen, and people don’t share awful new age glurge.
I do realize that there’s a lot of competitive nonsense that happens on Instagram but the Pagan and witchy community on there is mostly really nice.
If you have lots of time and you like a well organized political discussion, then Kialo is a good idea. It lays out the arguments on both sides of a question and participants are required to provide decent reasoning.
Twitter has always been a political space for me, but recently I had a big change of who I was following and now I am mostly only following people who are also following me. The great thing about Twitter is, if one gets in a political argument with someone, it’s usually a complete stranger, so one doesn’t feel guilty about unfollowing or blocking them.
I’m really enjoying Discord so far. It works similarly to Slack. You can have a server for your group, and different channels for different topics within that. There’s no reply threading so information doesn’t get lost as much. I have an inclusive Wicca group on there.
I do have a LinkedIn profile but LinkedIn is for linking with work colleagues and networking with other people who work in information technology. If you aren’t a former colleague and don’t work in IT, please don’t be offended if I don’t link with you on there.
I turned off notifications on all my apps except WhatsApp, email, Skype, and WordPress. Some people can resist those little red circles with a number in. I’m not one of them, so turning them all off was really great. Even the person who invented these notifications is embarrassed about it and has banished them from his life. This was just one of a whole string of apologies for the addictive and unpleasant features of social media (endless scrolling, pull down to refresh, feed algorithms, even the retweet button). In case you need to hide them, here’s how to do it.
Life before social media
All these issues of how to negotiate the boundaries of your personal life and your professional and social life existed before social media, but social media has multiplied them and put them under a huge magnifying glass. It’s good in many ways; it has enabled like minded people around the world to connect; it has also meant that you don’t have to go looking for like minded people in your neighbourhood, and that you can argue with people you would never otherwise have come into contact with. It has, ironically, resulted in more loneliness, not less.
You can go for years without actually talking to someone on the phone or arranging to meet up with them because you assume you are in contact via social media. But are you really in meaningful contact with them? Social media connections can sometimes be like being in a holding pattern, waiting for something to happen.
I try to adhere to a few simple rules online: giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming they mean well (until it’s obvious they don’t); not policing people’s language or tone beyond an expectation of not being racist, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist, and not swearing at people. There’s that saying about “if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything” and it’s a good yardstick.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my new book, Dark Mirror: the Inner Work of Witchcraft.