- the proven fact that something is legitimate or real, Online Dictionary
- not openly false, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age
- fake version of foreign cuisine/art/music that appeals to white pseudo intellectual hipsters, Urban Dictionary
reliable – realistic – life like – true – valid – lawful – bona fide – unattested – rightful
Somewhat ironically, the best real-world definition of authenticity we can hope for is articulated the most effectively on Urban Dictionary, a platform that calls on the unregulated masses to establish definitions for a variety of terms. These definitions, I would argue, have a firmer grasp on language’s use than the legacy hardback versions.
Although social media culture advocates for “transparency and openness“, the edited persona must remain simultaneously business-friendly, true and savvy. At the same time, the manner by which others approach and communicate with our online presence must be monitored meticulously. You can maintain the cleanest Twitter account in the digital sphere, but if your friend posts a picture of a drunken night out and tags you, it’s all over. Therefore our social media identity is a self-conscious one by definition. Web 2.0 ideology explicitly requires the self to be constructed as we would a tangible product. So where does this expectation of authenticity fit in?
This generally involves, according to Alice Marwick, a gruelling combination of immaterial and emotional labour:
Establishing a somewhat authentic persona can incorporate a magnitude of negative emotional costs which are often side-lined. This work can involve reiterating personal stories for online publication to the point of “extreme discomfort or vulnerability” (ibid). These stories can be potentially damaging, in a career sense, yet personal branding is increasingly correlated to employability. This is seen through young graduates constructing their social media in a way that represents the values they associate with their chosen field, given that many employers will extensively research a job candidate’s online presence before hiring them.
Young journalists in the United States, for example, have admitted to intentionally appearing apolitical on their social media pages so that prospective employers would see them as objective. They then found that once they were hired, employers expected them to fashion and maintain a personal brand via social media relating to their work. A significant issue with this is that the main persona is not the only person with the ability to contribute to the social media profile, and one must constantly be on alert for friends who post incriminating images, for example, of a lit night out. The amount of effort required to monitor this over a plethora of social media platforms that make up a persona is staggering.
- the conception, qualities, beliefs and expressions that make a person (online dictionary)
In self-branding culture, authenticity relies on our ability to ensure that each decision we make is rooted in being true to ourselves – but what is the self? The authentic self, we can conclude, is very much a social construct, a phenomenon we can relate back to Urban Dictionary’s open-sourced definition of the word. We are simultaneously told to be ourselves online within a virtual framework characterised by the surveillance of self-presentation, often with severe consequences within the physical corporate sphere. This becomes especially intricate in an internet arena without any established guidelines on media etiquette.
Even while trumpeting authenticity, Web 2.0 enthusiasts generally accept the idea that one should self-censor online (Marwick 2013).
This is the ultimate paradox enframing the social media paradigm. The social media sphere is far more socially progressive than its corporate physical shadow, making the two severely incompatible. We still have rigid distinctions between what is acceptable social behaviour and what is acceptable workplace behaviour. When the two combine, there are no guidelines on how to process this information. Logically, we cannot sustain a Web 2.0 culture of personas both completely transparent and corporate focused, so we need to work on changing definitions and practice to combat the instability between self-branding culture and the corporate western world.