Are We Losing Our Authenticity Online?
Nothing is more noticeable than in authentic leadership.
The internet has given us many, many things. We can connect with people all over the world in an instant. We can send and receive money virtually anywhere. We can also access information faster than any other time in humanity right from the palm of our hand. In granting this access, it has given us permission to take our inauthenticity online. It has allowed every “expert” to have a platform to voice their unfounded research.
In 2019 I wrote an article about what might happen when the internet outgrows its parents. At that point, I felt the internet was maturing into a teenager, but I was wrong. The internet was just a toddler. It was still teething, learning how to say a few words, and figuring out where the potty was.
What Happens When The Internet Outgrows Its Parents? medium.com Now, due to the nature of where humanity sits, I believe the internet has matured into a young child. It is ready to learn new things, tackle new challenges for the first time, and expand its horizons.
In tackling new challenges, one of these challenges will be how to tackle fake news (that is a whole other article that I hope more people write about). The other major challenge for this young child will be overcoming inauthenticity perpetuated by clickbait and low quality, inauthentic drivers of content.
If you aren’t with me just yet, let me tell you a story:
Awhile back, I was asked to come on to a show on Instagram. The message came through my DM’s and after taking a quick glance at the profile, it’s following, and looking inward at my goal of doing more online speaking engagements for my second book, I said yes to this opportunity.
Prior to this interview, I asked for some guiding questions from the host to which the host told me they wanted the conversation to be organic. No questions were sent ahead of time. Now, I am all about organic but this should have been my first red flag.
The interview started in a live format (which I also was unaware of — I thought it would be pre-recorded before being published) and we dived right in. Within 2 minutes of the interview, I was asked about my latest book. I was initially excited — this was exactly why I wanted to come on to the show.
Then, the interview took a turn for the worst.
The next set of questions that followed were some variation of the following:
Is writing a book a selfless act, or a selfish act?
Do you believe the universe is by chance or determined?
Tell us about trauma in your life
If you could be an animal, what animal would you be and why?
Now, as you can see from above, this interview went off the rails fast. With every authentic answer, I attempted to give to these sporadic questions, I was met with a cold response, emotionless tones, and a poker face on the other end. I don’t mind this when I am playing poker, but when I am asked to talk about faith, family, and trauma, you’d think that level of vulnerability would force the host to at least lean into you as the guest.
The interview eventually spiraled down so deep that I resorted to defense mode, pushing back on the interviewer, which helped end the show. This is when things got very interesting and a bit terrifying as a professional.
I asked the interviewer privately if he could open the line up just for him and me to have a conversation about what just happened. The line opened, we had an abrupt, cold discussion and I asked the host if he could unpublish the episode for reasons X,Y, and Z. I was then told that the show is similar to CNN in that when the guest comes on, you surrender the rights to any say in the content and where it goes. It’s the show's property. He then told me he would wait two days and ponder my ask before he would consider taking this down.
Now, I am no expert in law or psychology, but I would consider myself to be a reasonable human being. I am also not a media expert but I am pretty sure a show with a couple of followers has different content protocols than the largest new reporting network in the world. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I felt completely emotionally overwhelmed, and I felt absolutely powerless. It was like my vulnerability was held, hostage. I honestly felt like I was back in grade 5 outside the principal's office and was scolded for something I did wrong when in reality, I was asked to be on this show, provided as much value to the listeners as I could, and acted in the most professional manner possible. I was a wreck and I couldn’t believe someone could be so cold and inauthentic with me.
Once I took cover to my journal for an emotional safe haven, I realized that I had just learned a lot from this experience and the biggest thing I learned was this:
Just because someone has a microphone, doesn’t mean they have permission to stomp over peoples’ feelings, vulnerability, and human values on a live event.
Just because someone has a platform doesn’t mean they can make the rules up on the fly, while exploiting someone else’s emotions and character.
Just because someone has perceived influence, it doesn’t make them authentic or credible, especially online.
The internet has a big challenge ahead and I believe we all have a part to play in helping this young child navigate these challenges in inauthenticity. While we continue to respect and use the internet, we need to help make it better, not worse. We need to hold inauthenticity accountable when we experience it. We need the best of humanity to be entrenched into the best of the internet because, at the end of the day, the internet would be nothing more than thought if it didn’t have people driving it forward.