On 14th February 2018 I completed some revisions to a journal paper manuscript entitled ‘Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online‘. The paper was accepted for publication in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science two weeks later on 28th February 2018 (and is now available for download from the Edinburgh Napier repository).
Co-authored with my colleagues Frances Ryan, Peter Cruickshank and Alistair Lawson, the broad theme of the paper is patterns of information behaviour and use as related to personal reputation building and management in online environments. On the basis of the analysis of data collected from 45 UK social media users who hold (or have recently retired from) managerial/professional roles, in the paper we report the following main findings:
- Social media users portray different personas using online information, and this contributes to the presentation (but not the creation) of identity.
- Online information sharing practices for reputation building and management vary according to social media platform.
- The management of online connections and censorship are important to the protection of reputation.
- The maintenance of professional reputation is more important than private reputation.
Inevitably, as we were writing up this work, we compared the patterns of information use of our sample with our own practices. In my case, for example, I have accounts on all three platforms that are referenced frequently in the report of the study (as well as several others), and the information that I share on each is broadly in line with the same dominant use of our study sample: LinkedIn strictly for updates related to my professional life; Facebook predominantly for personal information sharing; Twitter mainly for work-related news. Like some of the project participants I also sometimes struggle to identify whether the information that I would like to disseminate should be posted on a professional or private platform. This is largely because (for me) the professional is an important part of my ‘whole self’ identity, and it is difficult to distinguish when my information sharing is for work or personal reasons.
Also on 14th February 2018 (the same day that I completed the manuscript) I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This news was not unexpected. The previous week I had attended a recall appointment at the breast screening centre in Edinburgh to investigate some anomalies identified from a routine mammogram taken on 22nd January 2018. At the recall appointment on 8th February 2018 I was told that the analysis of the biopsy sample taken that day would almost certainly confirm that I needed treatment.
As well as coming to terms with this serious health news, I now faced the challenge of communicating it to family, friends, and work colleagues. I couldn’t keep it secret (at least not for long) because the treatment requires several weeks off work. It is therefore somewhat ironic that for much of the period that I was working on the revisions to a paper that included reference to the sharing (or not) of personal information online (1st-14th February 2018), I was also deliberating over how I would communicate some very important news about my own health to my personal and professional contacts, should it be the case that I had cancer. It amused me when I realised that my life was imitating article!
In the event I have spent the past two and a half weeks telling people about my diagnosis, mainly face-to-face or by telephone, and in some cases by personal email. This has not been easy. In fact I struggled so much to break the news to my PhD students that I couldn’t do it myself. Thank you Dr Laura Muir for coming to the rescue!
This blog post represents the first ‘public’ announcement of my illness on social media. I’m blogging it today because my work email account is now set to send an out of office message to say that I am undergoing medical treatment, and that I will be off-campus from now until the end of April/beginning of May.
The good news is that my cancer has been caught early and I am expected to make a full recovery following surgery and radiotherapy treatment. Apart from exhibiting some signs of stress – a terrible headache that developed on the day that I told colleagues on campus that I would need to spend an extended period of time away from work (it lasted three days) and some insomnia – I am feeling fine. So although my breast cancer diagnosis has come as something of a shock, I am convinced that everything is going to be alright.