The Unexpected Public Relations Boom
If there is a common pattern to be found among most, if not all, social media profiles it is one persona that emerges: we are all PR managers. For a large section, this kind of depiction is deeply distasteful – perhaps even a slur. Regardless of the platform though, it is hard to overlook how each of us, more obviously for business and organisation channels, seek to cultivate a certain image in a light we want others to perceive us. The choice of wording, photos, timing and level of exposure we want to invite others to our lives – sometimes deliberate and calculated, as well as impulsive and emotional in approach. We all want to generate a reaction of sorts, even when that is not always the expected outcome sought, least of all should it suddenly become viral. Whether we are adept or inept as PR managers of our own presentation is subjective entirely to our own and peer judgement.
In the context of autistic people, with a focus upon Twitter and the wider community that has grown significantly, there can be little doubt it has amplified a voice that we do not have to manage by masking or adopting a neurotypical façade that only satisfies everybody else except ourselves. As PR managers in the physical domain, which we still navigate by a high margin, we would be doing overtime and going beyond the call of duty that much of the population do not find as such an ordeal. From this not entirely scientific poll conducted through Twitter, almost 80% felt their voices were as reflective of themselves as a person they were outside of social media. One user (@TheAshleyReview) even remarked that “Everyone who knows me says I am the exact same person on social media as I am in person.” While the expression we convey on Twitter is more likely than not to be closer to our authentic, non-masked selves, it may not determine the extent how true to our Twitter identities we can be in relation to how we engage with people in a physical space, depending on how comfortable we are and the circumstances. Social media, as with all online realms, are artificial constructs that we present ourselves as a ‘different self’ to varying degrees, no matter how intentional or not that is.
From my own experience, I perhaps still maintain a somewhat guarded and careful approach to my Twitter environment (with some exceptions). There is no doubt for the autistic folk I follow, and in some cases not having met personally, there are notable divergences in approach. It is only to be welcome that experiences of meltdowns, burnout and more comforting aspects, like special interests, can be openly spoken about in a manner that was scarcely conceivable 15-20 years ago. Self-advocacy, if not always a preferred title, has progressed to enable voices that were too easily overshadowed outside without the Twitter-sphere. If the campaign in opposition to the Spectrum 10K study, as one example, is anything to go by, it is that many in the autistic community make for a formidable force that will not go ignored by those who failed to listen to us in the past.
Equally, the drawbacks are very much present also. Like so many communities, the voices of autistic people on Twitter are fragmented – and often just as fractious as anywhere else in a similar space. The sometimes inherent bluntness and upfront trait with which we share our opinions could be without as much constraint in contrast to our personal interactions and the choice of the right or wrong word could pivot the interaction completely off course. As my own ‘PR manager’, and personal anxiety about the potential to offend or upset, it is still a source of concern with some messages that can be read in a way that I could not have foreseen. In instances of my work with certain organisations, and tweets that do not seem provocative or an issue for much debate, they can act as the opening round to a challenge that can rapidly escalate from there. We can be forgetful that the Twitter landscape, and other networks, are only a proportion, and not the entire range, of autistic thinking.
However autistic people seek to use their respective platforms, and even where there cannot be unity on all things, the huge expansion of distinct voices is a reason to acknowledge how online advances have suddenly made neurodivergent PR managers out of all of us.