Facebook: Bully Pulpit or Confessional?—Thoughts on Hiring an Online Ranter
What is the difference between what is said on Facebook and what is said in a confessional? In a confessional, sins are confessed to one person who will offer forgiveness and atonement. On Facebook, which is more like a pulpit than a confessional, it’s different.
On Facebook, you can justify, revel in and reveal your sins and secrets, to anyone who will cheer you on, and only them —or so thought the North Carolina 15-year-old disgruntled daughter of a gun-toting, IT-savvy dad with a cowboy frontier sense of justice, a grasp of and access to Youtube technology and a loaded .45 semi-automatic.
In an anti-parent rant—a “parant”, so to speak—that she thought was hidden from her computer-whiz dad (despite her titling it “To My Parents”), who read it to millions in his thoroughly engrossing and instructive Youtube posted video, she vulgarly trashed him. Not just him, but also her mom, her little brother (for waking her far too early—a point her dad concedes), her household chores and the woman who does many of the rest of them, whom she calls “the cleaning lady” (which, in its impersonality, seriously further irked her dad who remonstrated with her to be more respectful). No mention of the family dog in the rant, though. Perhaps they don’t have one.
Utilizing an extreme variant of what is called the “natural consequences” approach to discipline, and utterly disgusted by his daughter’s ingratitude after he spent hours and $130 upgrading her laptop for her on the day before her nasty Facebook posting, Tommy Jordan did what any even-handed father with a steady aim would do: He pumped nine hollow-point rounds from the .45 into the freshly-upgraded and repaired computer he put out on the yard lawn—one round by special request from her mom—and then billed his daughter Hannah $1 per bullet, before grounding her forever or for better, whichever comes first, and telling her to get a job, reimburse him for the $130 and to buy her next computer herself.
Without taking sides in this family feud, let’s imagine she does precisely that—tries to get a job, but not just a part-time job now to replace her computer; rather, a full-time job later, to permanently replace her adolescent chores.
When Permanent Flaws Intersect a Permanent Job
She’s only 15—but like most of everything else associated with youth, that’s temporary, except for the all-important exceptions of character and personality, which, as Freud made clear, tend to be fixed after the age of six, in the absence of some transforming inputs in the form of wise advice, profound insights or life-altering experiences.
So, although she will definitely become older, her becoming wiser—at least in correctly anticipating the reactions of adults like her dad—is iffy, as it is for virtually all of us. (Although heavily favoring her dad, posted responses to the video have included accusations that he did some seriously disproportionate, immature and unwise ranting, venting and ventilating of his own.)
So, if personality and character development do not keep up with aging, what can be expected of any Facebook-ranting teen when (s)he, as a 20-something applies for a permanent job?
While the content of Facebook postings and pages is frequently utterly simple-minded, trivial and banal, the underlying motivations for creating them can be profoundly complex, and in a semi-transparent way, very revealing—to recruiters and employers, as well as to the “friended” and “defriended”.
Facebook Personality Clues
Whether one is a Facebook ranter, an average mellow subscriber, a reluctant Facebooker or someone who avoids Facebook altogether, Facebook choices provide clues to personality and character. What are some of the insights and leaked revelations to be siphoned off from knowing that someone uses Facebook as a personal bully or bully-for-me pulpit, or to be gleaned merely from knowing that (s)he is or is not on Facebook?
In answering this, it is to be noted that because of their intensity, conspicuousness, provocative content and tendency to make employers uncomfortable, Facebook rants are a magnet for and a good starting point for closer analysis of the implications of how and whether a job applicant is on Facebook.
Faux Confidence and Entitlement
Fake confidence, self-righteousness, guiltlessness and entitlement: If it appears that an individual—adult or teen—is using Facebook primarily or disproportionately for unwarranted rants and other forms of guilt-dodging self-justification, don’t expect a job applicant with a tendency to easily feel or acknowledge guilt. This does not mean a lack of a Freudian “super-ego” (conscience)-driven sense of justice. No, not at all—however, it does mean that there may be a very well-developed and combative sense of injustice and demands for reparations and indulgences until perceived and/or imagined wrongs are righted.
As an extreme, but vivid illustration, it can be noted that virtually every mass murderer has these two traits: an outraged sense of justice and absence of any sense of guilt for acting on it. Correlations between rage and facts don’t have to be strong for the rage to be intense.
A somewhat less psychopathic and more job-germane form would be a Wall Street-clinging Gecko broker whose craving for what he considers justice and fairness allows him to accept a bloated six-figure subprime-mortgage-driven bonus without guilt. Of course, among those with online beefs are true victims of injustice seeking restitution, recompense, reform, rehabilitation (of the offenders) or simple retribution. The challenge for a prospective employer is to sort the truly wronged from those who are emotionally somehow not quite right.
A natural concomitant of one kind of guilt-free sense of being wronged is the much-bemoaned sense of entitlement possessed by and possessing so many who are living in contemporary plush G20 circumstances, e.g., well-indulged, pampered, maybe even feared fully-digitally outfitted modern teens. That’s what happens when McDonald’s “You Deserve a Break Today” is widely and wildly interpreted as a 24/7/365 mandate and license to make demands.
The sort of confidence that a sense of entitlement can engender comes with a price: On the one hand, the feeling that what you want, e.g., a new iPhone, cash pay for household chores (demanded by the outted Hannah) or a job promotion, is owed to you, is a natural right or is otherwise deserved can foster a purely circumstantial form of confidence—unflagging optimism like that of Dickens’ Wilkins Micawber or Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss. Optimism with a twist, however: the confidence that things will work out just fine, but only because others are obligated to you to make sure that they do, not because of your own talents, efforts, determination and perseverance.
On the other hand, such faux confidence can also manifest itself as condescension, ingratitude, complacency, smugness, self-righteousness, low frustration-threshold, impatience, helplessness, narcissism, inconsiderateness, victimization (as paranoia or practice), apathy and boredom.
Re-read that list and try to find one trait that can serve as a strong job credential.
The Merits and Demerits of the Facebook Group-Mind
In-Group Solidarity, Out-Group Antagonism, Trans-Group Identity: An unreasonable and unfair Facebook ranter, like most Facebook subscribers, does have two commendable and ideally co-existent traits that I believe virtually everyone on Facebook has—a commitment to being a part of something special that is bigger than oneself (or one’s self), in this case, an online group of validated and validating friends, and a healthy desire to co-exist with them as an independent, identifiably and at least equally special individual.
What makes these traits healthy is the balance they strive for: the balancing of the desire to be a part of something (preferably special) with the equally strong desire to have an independent (preferably special) existence apart from everything and everyone. When not linked to other clearly negative character and personality traits, such as shallowness, vanity, conceit or out-group hostility, such a Facebook-displayed balance of inner- and other-directedness can be markers for an excellent employee—someone who aspires to stand out on a closely-knit team, as a paragon of employee perfection, like a star football-quarterback.
As a job disqualifier, associated pronounced out-group antagonisms, dislikes, prejudices and hatreds are as likely to be in evidence among the group-minded as they are likely to be undesirable. That’s because the sociological cliché that says every in-group requires an out-group is mostly true. The stronger the in-group allegiance, the more intense the out-group intolerance, suspicion and hostility. Ask any fanatical Manchester United fan, whether on Facebook or not.
Demerits of such in-group/out-group polarization notwithstanding, it can be an excellent qualification for jobs that require an aggressive “us vs. them” mentality and style, e.g., the job of a Wall Street Gecko.
Those who rant, but over a beer and not on Facebook, because they refuse to be part of it, have a different, separate off-line psychological profile that has its own workplace merits and demerits. Virtually everyone I know who is not on Facebook because of refusal to join, has joined with extreme reluctance or who has deactivated it lacks one half of the “balanced” Facebook personality: These “Facelessbookers”, who would rather anonymously read a real book than share a Facebook page, include those who lopsidedly cultivate being apart from others or society in general, at the expense of being a part of them, manifesting this imbalance by joining or identifying with no groups and by an insistent preservation of their privacy, which they see threatened by Facebook’s intrusive policies and fish-bowl practices. (Of course, wanting to be or being a part of something is not synonymous with being on Facebook. Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught us that.)
One such Facebook resister I know, university professor, IT specialist and film-maker Simon Hemingway, Ph.D., is emphatic in expressing his aversion: “Facebook monetizes personality and operates like Amway, but on a grand digital scale.” Given how busy he is, he probably wouldn’t have time for Facebook, even if he were less opposed to it.
Then there is the privacy issue: Among Facelessbookers, “privacy” is often code for “specialness”, the idea being that the less privacy one has as a Facebook subscriber the more one seems like just another very unspecial, interchangeable goldfish in a fish bowl with 800 million other goldfish hoping and jostling to gleam, glitter and gain attention in the same way, in the same place. To Facelessbookers, whatever “specialness” Facebook fosters is a delusion that floats on the surging swells of Facebook’s huge and growing numbers.
If an employer is looking for someone with a very clear independent and creative streak, a Facebook resister may be an excellent choice, with the limitation and understanding that there should be no expectation of an equally pronounced need to be part of a group. Facelessbooker group functioning?—yes; group dependency?—no.
A Word of Encouragement
Forced by her dad to join the ranks of the Facebookless, if not also the ranks of the employed, Hannah is to be wished well as she contemplates and perhaps reconsiders what it is that she wishes to be a part of and what she cannot bear to be apart from.
It is to be hoped that she and her family can be reconciled, so that, in time, the costs and the feeling of being distanced from each other will matter to each of them more than the agony of living without Facebook matters to her.