What does authenticity mean online?
Social media is an ambiguous space when it comes to being authentic. It is both a place that encourages honesty and true self-expression, and where corruption, false statements and products are denounced; while also being a place of anonymity, where fake social media handles can promote an alternative version of the truth, or where you can present a curated version of you. In a world that is preoccupied with fake news and honesty, being authentic online has never been so important, and has never had as big implications for the offline world as now.
We have tracked trending online content this past month and mapped out the different ways in which authenticity manifests online, and what this means for brands.
1. There's a difference between authenticity and truth
- Being authentic online means being true to your values, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you must speak the truth – a tension that is fuelled by the anonymity of social media and has caused huge debate
- People are trying to be authentic to themselves online (in the UK #nofilter is the 31st most hashtagged word on Instagram) – which involves having ‘you centric’ ideas. For instance, Donald Trump is very true to himself on Twitter, and is therefore one of the most authentic characters online
2. Social media’s anonymity obscures what’s true and false, leading to a dangerous political game
- Online conversations have quickly escalated hearsay into unchecked facts in China around the Lotte scandal, and because the Chinese media is not always able to speak truthfully, these conspiracies spread wildly and are not easily debunked
- In India and the US, anonymous social media handles promoting fake news have placed certain content and politicians to the top of the trending charts - giving limelight to certain parties and swaying election results
- In Indonesia, protestors tried to topple Ahok, the governor of Jakarta, by using a multitude of Twitter handles to give the perception that there was growing support behind their movement
- In Brazil, after the impeachment of the President, there has been an overload of information and discussion online about the political situation, some false and some true, resulting in ambiguity and loss of faith
- US citizens have reacted to the fake news phenomena by taking a stand in favour of real facts and declared April 2nd (the day after April Fool’s Day) as International Fact Checking Day; #factsmatter was a trending hashtag on Twitter this week
3. Societal pressures make it difficult to express your authentic self online
- Amos Yee, a Singaporean blogger, sought political asylum in the US, claiming that the government prevented him from expressing his beliefs online. This sparked a huge debate about the right to authenticity online in Singapore, where the national rhetoric, which promotes upholding the collective attitude over your own, has meant that many have sided with the government
- A new draft of the Japanese constitution also favors “public order” over individual expression or freedom of speech
4. There are new definitions of authenticity online
- In Asia, this means expressing all your identity, in its multi-faceted forms. In Japan, many people have anonymous social media accounts, and most have more than one. In Indonesia, there is a trend of people dimensionalisng their identities with different accounts under celebrity names. They role play with their social media handles, just like gaming. The Japanese app “Anti-Persona” is taking this one step further by allowing you to “experience” someone else’s Twitter account – enabling you to read their feed and receive their reply
- In the UK and US, vulnerability is the new sign of authenticity: a US beauty blogger’s video about her husband’s death reached 2million views this week – surpassing her mere 75k followers on YouTube
- In Brazil, it’s all about showcasing your local roots
What does this mean for brands?
- Brands need to recognize and negotiate the tension that lies around being authentic online: embracing honesty and transparency is a must
- In the US and UK, vulnerability is a strength, and flaws are there to be shared
- Showing real moments, “behind the scenes”, is another opportunity – bringing you closer to your consumer, like The Economist in US adopting Snapchat as a main communication platform
Led by our Digital Forensics Team, Pulse is a weekly series exploring online culture
- Article by Marguerite Vernes