social censorship


Everyone and their grandma (literally) are involved in social networks online, and it seems I hear the same themes over and over. “I don’t even know most of the people I’m ‘friends’ with” and “I’m afraid to post certain things because I don’t know who’s ‘listening'”. These complaints mostly pertain to Facebook, but I hear the same thing with Twitter. I once read that social networking should be “who you are amplified” but I feel like that is not what’s happening.

We’re afraid. We’re afraid to deny someone “friendship” or afraid to post that crazy article we read or thought we had because our co-workers are lurking. We’re afraid future employers will look us up online and find some off-color thing we posted and give us a big “HELL NO”. So we censor ourselves. Some of us just avoid posting anything personal altogether, and others only post personal things that are safe, like an interesting New York Times article. But that isn’t who we are, is it? We’re not neat little perfect people sensitive to all lifeforms and styles around us. We have opinions. We think silly, sick, annoying, funny, offensive, stupid things. Yes, we think smart, thoughtful, enlightened, special things too, but it’s the former that never see the light of social networking. And maybe that’s okay, but it’s not authentic. And while some of us are perfectly okay with our G-rated selves, many of us are annoyed that we feel like we have to censor, or bad things will happen.

So what? Well, without authentic experiences, what’s the point? Why bother? Yes we may glean some interesting knowledge through articles being posted, but we aren’t really connecting. No one in our networks know who we really are. Maybe that’s okay for you but I’m tired of it. I’m tired of worrying about what I say and trying to decide if this thing I just laughed out loud about would really be okay to share. I recently moved away frommy close friends and colleagues and my online social networks are my main connection to them. I want people to still get at least some of the flavor they had with me when I was looking them in the face. I don’t want to all of sudden become some watered down version of someone just because I’m afraid. Shit, if you’re scared, why participate at all? Why not push the boundaries a little and bring your personal flavor, along with your professional “acceptable” self, to the arena? It seems to me this world is craving something real, not something safe. Yes we may make mistakes or offend someone, but we’re all human and I think we’d be surprised how much imperfection people find alluring. Just because we can edit ourselves to the nth degree in these online social spaces before we hit “submit”, should we?

I feel if we find that balance and we are able to maintain our real selves online, then this online community we’re pretending to be a part of will actually become some sort of real community, not another trip to the grocery store with fake smiles and small talk about the weather.

I’m working on being authentic online, who’s with me? Fire away in the comments below.

  • Miriam

    This is a great topic, Luke. I agree with you, but my concerns for authenticity don’t center around the content I share/don’t share. I guess I don’t really mind censoring myself to suit my online community (and, fact is, I don’t share so much that it matters anyway). In fact, even in “real life” I have tiers of friends and acquaintances in terms of how well they know me, and how comfortable I am with sharing my full range of emotions, thoughts, and ideas. I’m more perplexed by the building of that online community–naming people as friends is too easy. Since FB made true privacy a thing of the past, I have many more “friends.” Are all of these people folks I consider true friends? Not really. Many of them don’t know me very well at all (or any more), and don’t comment on my posts or send me messages beyond the initial friend request. That makes me sad and annoyed, but I haven’t figured out a good way to reconcile my definition of authenticity with my “real life” and online communities.

  • Luke Hokama

    Thanks Miriam! That’s a good point-how to build an authentic community that you care about and that cares about you. I don’t have great ideas either, but I have definitely created tiers in Fbook via creating/managing friend lists and controlling content from there, because you’re right, we do need to manage our content at times (see esp. the first two items on This method has allowed me to keep my true friends’ content focused so I can be more engaged with the people I really care about, but not have to totally exclude other people.

  • wilkeyem

    I’ve been sitting here for five minutes, thinking about this, thinking about how to respond. This topic came up yesterday, or the day before, in a conversation about twitter and how to create a balance between professional and personal tweets. I have to say, I like the tweeters who push a PLN into the personal arena. Twitter can be so high minded sometimes, to post a photo of a chicken bone struck me as outright rebellion. :)I have gone back and forth with opening myself up on facebook, primarily in my relationships with students. I have dozens of teenagers friending me each year and I have consistently denied them access to my profile until after they graduate. Even then, when I friend them, most are on my limited profile list. It goes against my teaching philosophy to shut them out like I do. I have other teacher-friends who add all their students–put it all out there–keep it real. I don’t know. I think having 2000 facebook friends would make me paranoid. Am I rambling? Interesting post. Keep up the blog.

  • Luke Hokama

    Oh man, you raise another great point Erin- students! When I was teaching I struggled with this as well and my strategy was hiding my profile and when kids brought it up and asked if I was on Facebook, I just avoided the answer. I was especially wary of my girl students for obvious reasons. I was sure that much of what I said in my personal space many students might be fine with, but their parents certainly wouldn’t understand, and I wanted to be respectful of that. I also believed in very clear boundaries with my students, and one of those was just not talking a lot about my personal life, and Facebook fell into that category.This really is a complex issue and very personal, so it’s great to hear more perspectives. Thanks again for raising your voice here!