An original Suedle from Sue Caulfield

An original Suedle from Sue Caulfield

This past week’s #SAChat topic was on social media conduct as a student affairs professional. Unfortunately for me I wasn’t able to join in until the conversation was winding down. Even thought social media is no longer “new”, it still can be a vexing issue for student affairs professionals, especially because it can embody how each of us approaches our overall work/life integration. On social media, the boundary lines can be more difficult to navigate, particularly if you are less about integration and more about separation.

While, as I already mentioned, social media is no longer new, it IS an area that is still very new in our professional discussions. The literature guiding our profession traces back almost 100 years. We’ve developed theory and ethics of practice to guide our work. While they can most certainly be applied to how we use social media in the work we do, I think it’s safe to say that none of our theorists had even a notion of the concept of social media at the time. This means that we’re left to develop our approaches largely on our own, which also means there’s room for new experts and “best practices” on the topic, some of which was heard during the conversation, and can be heard regularly at our national conferences.

At some point, as often happens in these conversations, the idea of authenticity was connected to how we use and appear on social media. I struggle with this connection, not because of the idea of being authentic, but because inevitably there are some who decide to define what authenticity means for others. I mentioned that the conversation about authenticity could be a case study for Perry’s Stages of Intellectual Development. It’s surprising for me to see how many folks approach the conversation from a place of dualism. In fact, some can sound downright self-righteous as the proclaim “Well, I have one account for everything because I have nothing to hide” which of course insinuates that someone who has two accounts is obviously hiding or embarrassed or living some dual existence.

I was one of those “two-accounters” on Facebook. In fact, if Facebook did not offer the list function as it does now, I probably would still have two accounts. I have always been more of an early adopter when it came to social media. I had both Friendster and MySpace accounts the moment I discovered them and once Facebook opened up to anyone with an .edu account, I signed up for one too. Of course, since you had to have a college e-mail address, most of my initial connections were the students at my own institution. It was an easy coexistence until I faced the day where I became aware of a policy violation via Facebook. Because it was all still new, there was no precedent for addressing the situation. I was still a newer professional, still learning how to react to a lot of situations, and this was no different. Once I moved on to my current institution, I decided to start fresh and open a brand new account just for connecting with students and co-workers. I would get grief from some colleagues, but this was how I decided to navigate my spaces in the social media world.

Once the Facebook list function came live, I then decided to discard my second account (which is, yes, a violation of Facebook TOS). I still pick and choose very carefully which posts are seen by whom. Most are able to seen by most of my friends, but there are other posts that I limit from students and coworkers. Why? Well, for one, as any friend will attest to, I use humor quite frequently in managing the world around me. My humor has many levels, and at times it can skew a little sarcastic and snarky. Until someone finally invents the sarcasm font for social media posts, it’s easier for me to keep those comments from those who might not understand my sarcasm as well out of context. I am also quite opinionated about political issues. While I generally share posts that are related to issues of social justice openly, other posts that are obviously partisan in nature I try to limit to certain audiences. I want all of the students I work with to feel that I’m open to them and to their opinions. I’d have no problem being honest with them in person, but in a situation where we can have an active dialogue. Commenting on posts can get out of hand and uncontrollable, and I’d rather keep that to the people I’m just as likely to have yell at me from across a dinner table.

Those are just a few examples, but I’m sure there’s probably more. So does the fact that I only let certain people see certain posts make me less “authentic” – less real? I believe that there can be contextual relevance that applies to authenticity. As I mentioned during the end of #SAChat, if I invite coworkers over to my house, I’m not going to be walking around in my bathrobe and slippers. Does that mean I’m not truly being authentic to them because I won’t let them see how I am in my own house 90% of the time? It’s not a either/or situation. Authenticity, like so many other aspects of our lives, has multiple dimensions. Most importantly, no one can define what authenticity is for me, but me.