Social Media: The Labels of Anonymity, Authenticity, and Authority

Did you hear about that guy who blasted his boss on Facebook and got fired? Or about that football player who tweeted his thoughts about the killing of a major terrorist organization leader and lost an endorsement deal as a result?

I am reminded of this quote I saw on one of my favorite sports blogs, The Big Lead:

“Twitter makes everyone actors. It’s not enough just to react or to have an opinion. You now feel compelled to share that opinion with your tens, or hundreds or thousands of followers. You must frame it extremely to draw attention and aggrandize yourself. It turns ordinary people into blowhards and blowhards into spiteful lunatics.”

The question this statement begs is:  In our rabid need to draw attention to ourselves, what’s real anymore?

Is there an answer? I don’t know. But the question stems from three words: Anonymity, Authenticity, and Authority.


The Internet and social media have created a “Power of Anonymity.” Behind the veil of “anonymous” or a screenname, people can “be” whoever they want to be. That veil frees people to say whatever they want—a seemingly staggering power that can be used for good, but oftentimes is not used for the right reasons.

Case in point: Have you ever read the comments section of any major news outlet? If you haven’t, go to one now and pick a political article. Read the comments. (I’ll wait.)

Frightening, right? Anonymity causes people to unleash opinions with such vitriol that they would never dream of saying if they had to say it in person. And you’re just as likely to get a thoughtful opinion shot down by some guy yelling, “Dude, you’re a freakin’ [blank] and [blank]!”

Anonymity has largely thrown responsibility out the window. To be successful in social media, you have to know how to weed through the irresponsibility and focus on the positive or constructive feedback. Remember: Trolls never give their real names.


Social media boils down to intent. What do I mean by intent? You can say intent creates filters on the social media conversation.

If your intent is to hide behind a screenname and let loose, your filter is anonymity. If your intent is to be out there as yourself (recommended), and you wish to be employable (also recommended), you will likely filter out what your inner monologue is saying.

Can you be authentic if you’re holding back? Can you be authentic if you’re being anonymous? Is it possible to attach your name to something and unleash the vitriol? For some, yes to all of those questions. For others, it’s a debate. And I can’t answer that question for you. It’s for you (and your organization) to decide.


Have you seen how many social media “experts,” “ninjas,” and “gurus” there are out there? It’s a stunning number. And for the most part, all of that “authority” people are seeking is total baloney.

I was having dinner a while back with a friend, and we talked about how social media has allowed people to attain certain “false authority.” After all, it’s only 140 characters on Twitter. You can retweet blog post after blog post, learn a few industry hashtags and acronyms, and really come across like you know what you’re talking about. You know, “fake it.”

What happens when we meet you at a conference? A whole lot of “air.”

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that humans need to assign labels to each other. These labels can vary from trustworthy to genius to fraud to a host of others. These three concepts combine to help form these labels that appeal to our basic human instinct to form herds and survive.

Given these challenges, here are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • How do you measure one’s “authority?” Can you measure it?
  • How do you identify and combat “false authorities?”
  • How do you identify trolls? And how do you decide when and when NOT to respond to feedback?
  • How do you determine authenticity online?