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A horrifying version of us

The idea of “personal brand” seems to be resurgent. Ten years ago, when I wrote Me and My Web Shadow it was a thing – but then seemed to fade from conversation. I avoided using the term; reputation is a much more useful idea to focus on for individuals – it is something you can affect but it is something earned, an outcome, defined by the perceptions of others.

There’s something more controlled and designed about the idea of personal brand; an idea attached to it that you can set out how you will be seen and experienced by others. You can’t.

Reputation = what you do + what others think and say about you.

Perhaps the term personal brand is increasing used because of anxiety about how the internet can spawn mobs that will rip apart the reputation of an individual. An ugly phenomenon – once shocking, now commonplace.

Angela Nagle is an academic who studies the online culture wars. Even studying them can be hazardous, she’s found. Cross the alt-right and they will dox the offender. Question a liberal taboo, especially when it comes to identity politics and you will feel their wrath.

In a recent an interview on the FT Alphaville podcast, Nagle said:

The appeal of the internet and of social media was that it offered us this narcissistic pleasure whereby we could almost brand manage ourselves …while the internet can give you this persona… it can also take it away and present a horrifying version of who you are.

When we look at the horror-show of the public sphere on Twitter and other social media today it can seem like the internet has created a horrifying version of us.

Some of the phenomena we are living through will be understood and analysed by future historians. We don’t know where this is all going, but we are definitely going somewhere new and we’ve moving quickly. Nagle seems to be writing a first draft of the sociology of our accelerated connected times.


Have a listen to the podcast. I’ve also put Angela Nagle’s book on my reading list: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right.

Image: The late, very great, Rutger Hauer presenting a horrifying version of us in Blade Runner.