Emotional Labor in the Digital Age

Katherine Wright’s recent post on Twitter as a hostile environment caught my attention, especially her point about employer expectations that faculty “engage” with social media.

If you’re like me, you never received any formal training in using social media for professional purposes. Whatever you see from me on this blog, it’s self-taught. A learn-as-you-go process where mistakes, whether technical or editorial, get made. But the consequences of these mistakes are quite small given that the format allows me to retain most of the privileges (male, Caucasian, overly-educated, etc.) that I enjoy in so-called meatspace. Comments are few, come from like-minded colleagues, and in the end, moderated. The content doesn’t attract hackers, doxxers, or nuisance lawsuits.

That is not the digital world that many of us live in. We know that some people, because of their identities, are regularly subjected to negative biases in the work environment. Expecting them to communicate in mediums where such biases can be infinitely amplified, while not preparing them for what they are likely to encounter, is simply disastrous.

Making matters worse: employers that want their employees to act as semi-public figures for marketing purposes often expect those employees to endure the harassment and abuse that they subsequently receive, or, as if this were somehow possible, prevent the harassment and abuse from occurring in the first place by tailoring their communication to the needs of an anonymous and dysfunctional audience.