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You are what you post online

Written by Tayo Elegbede - Nigeria

Tayo Elegbede
Social networking sites are fast becoming an indispensable work cum playground for both digital natives and migrants.
The growing popularity of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of others; provides individuals and organisations a new opportunity to create, define and communicate values, digital and social culture to the virtual world. This opportunity can be seized largely through little, yet consequential actions like profile bios and display pictures, page and post likes, comments and posts, tone and frequency of conversations, choice of words, interests and perspectives among other social media activities.

Social media activities are an expression of both personal and social identity. They are a reflection of real life, exposing the values and interests of the user, with the potential to either make or mar reputation, influence interaction and network building. These effects are applicable to both individual and organisation profiles.

The growth of social networks and users, particularly in Africa, gives rise to a new domain of concern for experts and users alike. This concern borders on the seemingly widespread abuse of social media with a prevalence of vices, such as digital identity theft, cyber bullying and online vulgarity. Hence, the need for noble online adventurers to define their personality, style and values in sync with their offline relevance.

So, does your post on social media reveal more about your personality?
Well, the answer is yes. While it all feels random, what you like and what you post says more about you than you think or will consider at the spur of the moment. Social media engagement is not just an expression of your personal interests or your idealised self; it is like a transparent windowpane into your personality. For instance, if your regular social posts border on brands and marketing, it will not be out of place to conclude that you have an interest in branding and communications, thereby, giving me an idea of your professional interest and aspects of your personality. In 2013, Justine Sacco, a New York based PR agent, was fired by her company for posting a tweet calculated to be a racist thought. Sacco had tweeted about embarking on a trip to South Africa to visit her family with the optimism that she will not contract the dreaded HIV and AIDs. "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" Sacco tweeted.

While on-board the airplane, little did Sacco realise that her 'kidding' tweet had gone viral and she had become perhaps the most scolded person for a racist tweet. The fall-out of the tweet was a sack.
In the many revelations that followed Sacco's predicament, it was learnt, that she had continually engaged in such racist comments but met no viral reaction from the social media networks and communities she belonged to.
Similarly, a friend, only two weeks back, narrated the scenario of her cousin who had just been given an internship opportunity in a US-based engineering firm, though this was not her company of choice. Taking to her Facebook page, she expressed appreciation for the offer, yet, wished she got the placement in her company of choice. Unfortunately, the offering company looked through her Facebook page and read comment, which led to the withdrawal of the internship offer. In Tanzania, a picture of two police officers kissing in the public while in uniform went viral online. The officers were eventually sacked on the grounds of breaching the police code of conduct.

Conversely, a good number of individuals have leveraged social media to reach out to potential employers, contractors, scholarship institutions, donor agents and partners, with many, a success story to tell.
While it is only normal to express feelings, thoughts and opinions via social accounts, it is also vital that these expressions are responsible and sensitive to the parties involved. Apparently, your social media accounts are your personal space for social adventure; hence, you have the prerogative to decide what goes up on them. However, the caution is to reflect the real you, while evaluating the impact and consequences for each action and inaction.

The personality blend: Offline or online?
Tracking digital identities and mapping them with real life identities is gradually becoming a daunting challenge. This was put into cognisance at the 2014 Social Media Africa Summit. The concerns revolved around whether or not social media users should maintain their already established offline personality, online, or create a new personality for their 'online adventure'.

Social media is as important as real life; hence, individual and organisation online personality traits should rub and feed off offline personality traits. The suggestion is that there should not be separate rules of engagement and personality expression for online and offline interactions.
The social media is not an exclusive feature, as it is not an end, rather, a means to an end of everything social and offline. Therefore, synchronising your offline and online personalities makes your interaction deeper, broader and more humane, while helping the world solve the digital identity war.

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