The Age of Authenticity Washing

Two x Two Faces
Two x Two Faces by J.D. Hancock

There have been a couple of recent posts acknowledging the decline of authenticity on the social web. In reality, authenticity as it was preached in the mid 2000s for all intents and purposes is a lost art. Today, we have formulaic gestures, and acts and boasts of authenticity instead of people being people.

Authenticity washing is abound. Whether it’s a demonstration of flair, declarations of being the real thing, and even protests of being flawed, one has to wonder what we’re seeing. Many people claim to be nice in the social media blogosphere while they curse out their peers in emails or police contrarian opinions through flash mobs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. To say more would not be mindful. The real behavior is nothing worse than the scandals we see played out in the media, and is simply a demonstration of the human condition. But what we are told is not authentic.

There are a few reasons for this decline in authenticity. One is the over-commercialization of the social web. The second is the rise of the personal brand movement. No matter how many personal branders claim reputation based on actions, the practice encourages putting forth a contrived image to the marketplace. In the end, authenticity has declined because people are afraid of looking bad. Courage — the ability to act in the face of fear — has and will always be at a premium.

So the authenticity washing will continue. There is no formula for being authentic, folks. Authenticity is simply being you, good and bad and everything in between. Be you.

In the end, talk is cheap on the social web. Actions are not. Watch what people do, not what they claim.

What do you think about the state of authenticity on the social web?

23 Replies to “The Age of Authenticity Washing”

  1. Trying to build a reputation on ‘smoke and mirrors’ instead of a firm foundation – truth and authenticity – has never worked for long. The Internet and social media blow the smoke away even faster. Is that really so hard to figure out? 

    As I said on Twitter – Common sense isn’t all that common. Let’s hope the smoke gets cleared and takes those who don’t get it away with it.

    1. About the smoke blowing away even faster. I am beginning to think not though after years of watching some of the most amazing BS pass for authenticity.  I hope you are right about that.

      1. Hey, on a bad night for our Nation I’m doing my best to see the glass as half full. All we can do is keep calling it out and be authentic. Who knows? It might, eventually, make a difference.

  2. Any type of commercialization or “bottom line” style of thinking will give you contrived images. It isn’t necessarily personal branding because, as I see it, you could only get away with that on the internet. In person, it’s easy to weed out. 

    That, and I’m not sure I buy that there’s less authenticity now than there was before.  Maybe it’s only that the un-authentic are easily seen now, rather than having more of them. Or it could be as simple as a mathematical pattern: as the population in social web grows, so too does the population of the un-authentic (since there is bound to be some mathematical relationship–a ratio–between the two camps).

      1. There’s less optimism than there seems. 

        I’m a fan of mathematics and, from what I’ve seen, most everything can be described in terms of mathematics. Events, occurrences, etc. all happen in a consistent manner. Once you accept that premise, the next step is to accept that, in a given population, there will be a percentage of that population that are one way and another percentage another way. 

        Rather than optimism then, there is an expectation. Which most likely allows me to be more optimistic. ha.

  3. Yes authenticity is “being you” but you can still be polite or appropriate in situations. Happiness, for example, is not popular. I am often criticized for being “too positive” but those who know me intimately know that is authentically ME.

    I get a little tired of all of the snarkasms and negativity in the name of authenticity too. Human behavior is complex and honesty is seldom truth. I am of the age where authenticity and individuality was the culture. People under 35 years old came of age in a culture of sharing, where belonging is more important.

    But ultimately I agree with you. Only lip-service is paid to authenticity. And being negative and critical is seldom truly authentic in my observations. It is often just sensationalism.

    1. As a Gen Xer I am not sure the me generation can be classified as authentic, other than authentically vain. As to negativity not being authentic, I suppose there are two sides to the coin. In the end, we all strive for happiness. Some approach it differently, some get there, some don’t. I will say positivity feeds more positivity. At the same time, there REALLY is much wrong with the world that we need to mindfully address.  Thanks for the comment, Kat!

      1. I was born in the 1950s, Lionel Trillings book defined the culture’s coming of age, with the lofty goal of “Sincerity and Authenticity”. I don’t think any generation is more honest or moral than any other, but there are cultural differences. I am learning to embrace the current culture, without abandoning my idealism.

  4. Geoff, 
    Great post. I agree. Saying one thing and doing another thing is not being authentic. It’s the definition of a hypocrite.
    1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
    2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings 
    Too many Social Media “Gurus” with large followings are sliding into this trap. Religious leaders and politicians are too. 
    I’m glad the digital age is helping make their actions more transparent so we can better see these contradictions.

    Bill (Dr. William J. Ward) aka DR4WARD
    Social Media Professor at Syracuse University in the S.I. Newhouse College of Public Communications

    1. I think many social media gurus are not accustomed to the success, and have fallen to the elixir of power (perceived) so to speak.  They forgot where they came from. We see this with Hollywood stars, too.  It’s a parasocial phenomena.

  5. Geoff, This “What Is A Brandcuff?” video speaks to me about some of the frustration with authenticity and the state of the Social Web and Digital. (Dr. William J. Ward) aka DR4WARDSocial Media Professor at Syracuse University in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications

  6. A fair observation Geoff. I’m not sure if authenticity has changed for everyone, but certainly some who wrestle with their own successes, forgetting who they are and attempting to promote what they are. They will learn. What one is is subject to change; who one is rarely does. 

  7. Authenticity will never exist. Everyone has an ulterior motive at the end of the day. Brands, while there to engage/chat/interact/other buzzword are all there to turn a profit or save money on the commodity known as the conversation. 

    On the flipside, individuals are using the space for reasons ranging from professional to trolling for dates, trolling for trolls-sake or to build up a bunch of good connections. While many are content, people are always looking for the next gig or big venture.

    For me it is to meet people and I try to be me, but do need to dial back at times as well, given my position with a company. So in some ways it is a catch-22 but I am more than likely to share my mind unless there is a potential COI.

    1. Kind of like there is no altruism in this world. Yet, I think there are people who pretend to be more than they are, and that’s the issue I am pointing out…

      1. And I agree with that and got the vibe in the post while reading. Now maybe I should buy another pie…

  8. I agree with Shad – the inauthentic is more visible now.  Precisely why Jamie Notter and I wrote a big chapter on authenticity in our forthcoming book (Humanize) – because everyone talks about it, but no-one really knows how to do it.  

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