!@$&: You can be Authentic and still be Polite. 

I curse like a sailor. It is one of my favorite traits, nurtured by my mother, and a big part of “who I am”.

At the Digital Citizenship conference last week, on the topic of authenticity, a question arose about the difference between being “authentic” and being “too casual”. It’s important to be authentic in your online identity in the same way you want to have an authentic reputation among your peers and colleagues. There is a line, though, and many students struggle with it because they want to be true to themselves and the message they hear about being authentic conflicts with advice about being polite.

You can be both authentic and polite.

I can curse like a sailor with my friends, family and close confidants. I can also be polite with colleagues, peers, students and parents. It is a choice to behave either way. When we are online we have to decide with each post on each platform how polite we want to be. In any case we should be authentic; posting something that is a true representation of your thoughts, opinions, and what is of value to you and your followers. But authentic does not permit rudeness because “that is who you are”.

If you are posting to Facebook, Twitter, or any mass-audience channels, you should be polite. Avoid cursing, rude comments, or anything crude. In the same way you would not want to shout out obscenities in public, you don’t want to do it online. Your words, while they may be authentic, will be interpreted by the reader and you cannot control that. Your reputation can be affected negatively and you could lose opportunities before you even knew you had them.

In a private social channel, like messaging or Snapchat, you can consider your audience and determine how to communicate. Just remember that it’s never truly “private” because anything posted online, even SMS messaging, gets encrypted and saved. People on the receiving end of messages can also take a screen shot of whatever you send, turning it into a picture file permanently. Instagram now lets users know when someone has taken a screen shot of a private direct message.

Your Social Media is meant to bridge relationships with people. You will connect with more people and, more importantly, the right people if you treat your mass-audience platforms as a space for authenticity and being your best self.

For the mass-audience platforms, remember to THINK before you post. Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? Running your post through these questions in your head should, at the very least, make you pause long enough to decide if the post belongs on that particular platform.

So by all means – keep on cursing. Keep being politically incorrect. Be whoever you are in all your authentic glory. But please, don’t let your “authenticity” keep you from being polite.


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