Day 2: When it’s a bit too personal

It’s important to realize that while sharing secrets to a faceless screen might seem easier, the real-life consequences are still the same as they always have been. In fact in our super-google-powered world, these consequences have never been higher.

I often think about how terrifying it must be to be a teenager in this digital world. I was bullied so badly that my parents moved me to a different school for 8th grade. That move brought instant relief and I started anew as a totally different person. I remember how terrified I was when the following year in high school a girl from my original middle school showed up. I was sure that she was going to blow my entire cover and somehow get all my new friends to turn against me. Of course she didn’t and everything was fine. But I remember those moments of pure terror- a feeling like my escape had been a cruel dream. That I was destined to be bullied forever. Trust me- it’s a horribly dark place to be.

I can’t imagine what it’s like now- where school communities must bleed into others. Escape for the bullied takes much more than moving districts. There’s no ability to hide. No anonymity. It was this experience that led me to write this blog post a few years ago when some geniuses decided to make a burnbook app (yes it was as bad as it sounds). Eliminating privacy is not the same as “authenticity” regardless of how many misguided posts out there on personal branding proclaim the contrary. We do not live in an episode of Black Mirror.

Being “authentic” online is not about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. It’s not about erasing the barrier between the personal and the public. Rather it’s about figuring out how you want to present yourself online in a way that is consistent with your offline persona. Your online personal brand should support who you are offline not undermine it. And remember- we all show different facets of ourselves to different groups of people. And that’s perfectly acceptable. Just remember that anything that goes online should be the lowest common denominator as far as what you’re willing to personally share. Because even if you have privacy settings in place all it takes is one ill-willed screenshot and your private views become very publicly shared.

That’s the point of a personal brand. You put out there what works for you. You figure out how to be authentically you- and no one can tell you how to do that but you.  I encourage you to sit down with a glass of wine, some soft music on and a sheet of paper. Start writing and see what comes out. Who are you? Who do you want to be? Then think about what type of content goes along with that persona and give it a whirl.

Honestly if you’re thinking of spending money on creating a personal brand you might consider spending some of that into a good therapist as opposed to a marketing professional (and I speak as one!). Because helping you to think through your personal narrative is something that they are uniquely suited to. And you might learn a lot about yourself in the process!

Like yesterday’s post, this is the point where I’d probably want to go back through an add some more links, perhaps do some editing to make it flow better. BUT I’m resisting the urge- so I apologize that it’s a bit stream of consciousness 🙂 

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should: The Burnbook App

We live in the app age. Got an idea? Make an app. The cost barrier is getting lower and lower thanks to the increase of investment by platforms such as Facebook. One reason of course platforms such as Facebook are jumping into this market is that it’s very lucrative. According to a 2013 study by Neilson, 70% of 13-17 year olds use smartphones. I imagine that that number is even higher now. Teens and their relationships to each other are now being directly impacted by the types of apps that are being created. And this is a situation at which we in the tech industry need to take a long hard look.

I realize that this statement directly collides with one of the fundamental tenants of the developer industry. If people use our creation in ways that it wasn’t intended to be used it’s not our fault. And yes. It would take a very lengthy and costly legal case to argue otherwise. But there’s a different between being legally right and morally right. This elephant in the room has been growing continually larger as teen use of smartphones increase and we see the rise of trends such as sexting.

But for me the last straw is the Burnbook App which directly enables cyberbullying. And, I don’t care what the founders state, it was not designed to be a fluffy social networking app for adults. Come on- why else would you name your app something that that appeared in a Disney movie  about bullying in high school?

Here’s why this strikes such a chord with me. I was bullied horribly in middle school. It got so bad that I ended up switching schools to get away from it. That gave me a fresh start. To symbolize it I changed my name from Susanna to Suzie. But I always had a fear that somehow someone from my prior school would connect with someone in my current school. When I started high school I ran into someone from my prior school triggering a full on panic attack. Thankfully she let me keep my new identify and I was safe.

When I first heard of cyberbullying in the mid-2005s my blood ran cold. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t been able to get away from the rumors by switching schools. And I guarantee given the malice that certain group of people had against me those rumors would have followed me. To be totally honest there’s a chance that I wouldn’t be sitting here typing out this blog post.

Bullying is absolutely no joke. I was let down by administrators in my middle school. A physical threat was made against me and when I reported it they told me that it was my fault and threatened to suspend me along with my bullies if it happened again. In a way I feel like the developers of apps like Burnbook are doing the same thing. They are putting the onus on the bullied to toughen up and somehow prevent what’s going on.

The problem is that you can’t prevent bullying. No matter what I did when I was being bullied I couldn’t get out of it. I tried to change what I wore, how I acted and ultimately I stopped talking all together. Nothing worked. It took my parents stepping in to protect me to finally make it end.

Right now parents are doing the same thing with the Burnbook app.

But I can’t help but feel that this is an app that shouldn’t have been created in the first place. We aren’t living in 2005. We’re living in the age of cyberbulling. There is no plausible deniability here. So I ask developers, as a personal plea, please take a moment and think through the potential consequences of your ideas. You have a gift- the ability to impact a huge proportion of teenagers through your apps. Why not use this to create something positive?