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Reputation Management - an Easter Reflection

Mal Fletcher
Posted 18 April 2014
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Mark Zuckerberg was once asked how Facebook stores data and protects users' privacy.

According to Mathias Dopfner, chief executive of Axel Springer, one of Germany's leading media companies, he responded thus: 'I do not understand your question. Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear.'

If Mr Zuckerberg thinks as he speaks, this reflects a worrying lack of respect for privacy and a genuine belief that, as another social media guru has put it, "privacy is dead".

Perhaps even more worrying is the way in which we, the users of social media sites, jump in boots-and-all when it comes to sharing personal information online.

One of the consequences of our naiveté - or perhaps willful ignorance - is a growing need for reputation management.

If one's life is going to be recorded in binary code, one must surely work to see that wherever possible only the better parts are recorded.

At first glance, the potential for online "reputation crafting" may seem like a positive development. Through Twitter, Instagram and a host of other social networking platforms, we can reinvent our online persona almost as many times as we wish.

We may even present a completely different version of ourselves to different audiences, or via different accounts.

We are, it seems, free to create avatars that reflect our better selves - or the people we would wish to become.

Yet avatar-creation is not always as helpful as it first appears. Owners of dating websites often discourage people from giving false impressions of themselves. After all, duplicity has never been the basis for healthy relationships.

However, the ease with which one can photoshop one's backstory seems irresistible to some.

The same is true in the job-seeking and professional worlds. Doubtless more than a few LinkedIn profiles have been "sexed up" to draw the eye of prospective employers or clients.

There are certainly no shortage of news stories now about prominent figures who've spiced up their CVs with bogus educational achievements, or have plagiarised the work of others in constructing essays and speeches.

Yet, as Mark Zuckerberg's sister Randi notes in her book dot Complicated, the truth tends to come out in the end anyway, often with embarrassing results. The online community, she suggests, prizes the currencies of truthfulness and trustworthiness as much as people in the offline world.  

Knowing this, most of us will never deliberately invent qualifications or totally reinvent personal stories that bear little or no resemblance to fact.

Yet there would be few of us who've never shaded pieces of personal information so that they reflect positively on our intentions or character.

Indeed, being our own editors, we have the power to delete completely entire episodes which may not offer our best face to the world.

This is one of the reasons why, according to recent research, even light social media users are more likely to suffer depression than non-users.

When we read of others' exploits and view their photos on Facebook or Instagram, we're seeing only a portion of their reality. It's a narration that is been selectively remembered and recorded to represent only their best lives.

Reading or watching this story online can leave the rest of us feeling downcast at the relative inadequacy of our own lives.

Telling a better story about oneself is a practice as old as human nature itself. We do it all the time in conversation.

Yet the propensity to spend huge amounts of time doing so, and in a way that records our words for posterity, is something new to our generation.

We are, as one book has it, the App Generation, who spend increasing amounts of time engaging with internet applications, honing our reputations online.

Reputation management has arguably become an obsession for many of us.

To balance this - and maintain our own mental health - it is surely worth reflecting on one of the central messages of Easter.

For Christians, this season represents the highpoint of the "kenosis", the "self-emptying" of Christ. This is a term theologians have borrowed from the original Greek language of St Paul's letter to the believers at Philippi.

Here we are told that in order to become human, Christ divested himself of all of the privileges of divinity. He came "in the form of a servant" and became obedient to God's will to the point of surrendering himself to an ignominious death.

The King James Version of the scriptures, respected for its literary qualities by people of many faiths and none, puts it thus: "he made himself of no reputation". Wycliffe's even earlier translation says: "he meeked himself".

This is a word we no longer use as a verb. Indeed we hardly use the word at all, perhaps because we associate meekness with weakness. Strictly speaking, it means the opposite: it refers to controlled strength, or submitted strength.

To be meek is, in essence, to lay aside one's self-reliance and self-obsession in the pursuit of higher and greater agendas.

For me, at least, this seems a good launching point for a period of personal reflection this Easter.

How might I step further back from the craziness of constant reputation management to embrace a greater level of selflessness, and an ambition to promote and facilitate the success of others rather than obsessing over my own?

Were we each to give even must a few moments thought to this over Easter, we might find that our world - if not the world - becomes a more honest and less self-obsessed place.

And, despite Mr Zuckerberg's pessimism on the subject, at least some of us might do more to protect our privacy and avoid the need for reputation management.  

What’s your view?

Is Easter a good time to reflect on questions like reputation management?



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