Authenticity and Trust on the Web: The Importance of Being Genuine
We might all agree that trust on the Web requires authenticity, but we may not all realize the extent to which that’s true and how relevant the idea may be for ordinary netizens, not just public figures, large organizations, and well-known brands. Given the reach and potential permanence of digital content, we should all consider the extent to which how we present ourselves in cyberspace corresponds with what we say and do in the physical world. Inauthentic on the Web? – The Truth Shall Out.
Here’s one of the things about the Web – It will eventually reveal whether we’re being authentic or not. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, but at some time if we’ve pretended about something either online or offline, this discrepancy will be revealed. Depending on the magnitude of the discrepancy, the result of this revelation could have long-lasting detrimental effects on our relationships, because the quality of our lives is very much about our relationships isn’t it?
I’m not talking here about people who set out to deliberately be devious or manipulative by creating false identities in order to dupe others. That’s a completely different topic. I’m referring to the average user of the Web, who’s using it personally and/or professionally.
Most of us have probably thought about authenticity – what does it mean to be authentic and are we authentic? Who’s not authentic and why do we think this of them? I know that I certainly have, and for me the simplest way of viewing authenticity, and hence assessing it in myself and others, is to look at it from the point of view that our actions must be in line with our words. When the two are out of sync, it means authenticity has flown out of the window. Then we’re into a situation of wondering whether we can trust this person (or business), and how much we can trust them. We may even begin to question situations from the past. Not pleasant to be sure. Of course we can move past these lapses if we value the relationship enough and make an effort to find out why it occurred, and together work to resolve the situation in order to return to a positive relationship. Then there’s the other side of the coin in which no effort is made to discover why there was a lapse in judgement because we feel betrayed and the situation can be left to fester and disintegrate.
We are all aware that the Web enables us to access information quickly, that news is globally available in seconds, where 20 years ago it might have taken hours or days to be distributed around the world. In the same way, the Web quickly reveals people’s beliefs and perspectives, to a greater than lesser extent, as they respond to situations and incidents using the variety of social tools now available on the Web that support dialogue and conversation. It is the situations in which these responses can be seen to be in opposition to how they portray themselves offline that raises the spectre of inauthenticity. If offline we say we are one thing, and online we behave differently – and vice versa – the question arises: which is the real person?
A recent experience of this lack of authenticity between an acquaintance’s online and offline behaviour has caused me to write about the topic because the experience has been disturbing. The discrepancy showed up over a year after a conversation I’d had with this person. The situation in a nutshell is this: they shared that they had attended a professional learning event and that the person presenting did not effectively convey the information and they were left unclear at the end of it. I commiserated and we discussed what they could do to close the gaps in their knowledge. That was that. However, a couple of weeks ago I was doing some research online and discovered that said acquaintance had written a glowing recommendation on LinkedIn about the event and commended the presenter on their ability to transfer knowledge and information. I was left reeling, well maybe an exaggeration, yet it immediately made me question whether I could accept what this person had said in the past and what it would bode for the future. I know I will have to raise this with them because this knowledge will now cloud future interactions. What the Web did was reveal this acquaintance’s discrepancy between words and actions faster than I would have discovered them through our offline relationship. It brought home that revelations of this nature can happen at any time and the impact would not be lessened even if there was long time lag.
My belief is that the impact of being inauthentic on the Web is magnified because what we see is written (or is a picture) in stone, so to speak, which is pretty much indelible. The need to be aware of what we say and how we respond on the Web cannot be sufficiently stressed. We have to be conscious that what we do online is impacting our legacy. This is not a game, it is life. Online, offline, they are both reality and illustrate the way we live our lives. We need to be the same regardless of where we’re communicating or, as the saying goes “things will come back to haunt us.”