In 2006, the editors of Time magazine named “You” (yes, you) their “Person of the Year.” Some may consider this blanket accolade a blatant and shameless attempt to grab the attention of boxing day shoppers who passed by news stands on their way to the biggest deal of the 2006 holiday season. And, considering the Christmas date of the issue’s release, it probably was. But the honour may not have been bestowed entirely without merit. After all, Time‘s celebration of You was really more of a tribute to the technology that allows You to broadcast yourself to anyone who cares to listen—with the advent of Web 2.0 websites came a “New Digital Democracy,” whereby anyone with an Internet connection may lobby, postulate and discuss ideas to and with a mass audience. In effect, Time‘s dedication to You was a signal for You to get blogging, YouTubing or Facebooking (if You have not been already), almost as if it was your civic duty.

However, consistent with the technological development of the Internet as a whole, this utopian vision of Web 2.0 websites has been met with its share of criticism. In fact, in the “Talk Back” section of the 2006 Time Person of the Year issue, a reader named Eli Stephens pointed out the irony “in having named ‘us’—bloggers, YouTubers, Wikipediasts, and others expressing ourselves on the web, as [Persons of the Year], but then, despite talking about ‘digital democracy,’ not even bothering to MENTION the results of [Time‘s] online poll [for Person of the Year], won by Hugo Chavez in a landslide.” Eli’s comment reminds us, perhaps, of the true authoritative voice that (so far) remains in print. But even this, with diminishing newspaper sales as proof, is becoming less of a concern for online publishers.

What has become a bigger concern for users of Web 2.0 technology recently has been the debate surrounding whether there is too much information published online. Are those who publish personal information or opinions in the frontier of “new democracy” opening themselves up to public scrutiny or harassment? How secure is the information entered behind the walls set up by popular Social Network Sites? How do our online personas reflect our offline identities? These questions have become particularly pressing of late due to the growing use of Web 2.0 websites by employers who are looking to find out more about their job applicants. Horror stories of hopeful job applicants who have their dreams of employment dashed due to an ill-advised Facebook photo or inebriated tweet can be found all over the Internet. But as popular marketing guru Scott Stratten would tell us, for every opportunity we are given to fail online, we are given a reciprocal opportunity to “be awesome.”

In this study I will define “Web 2.0 technology” and “Social Network Sites,” and explain why skepticism surrounds these media regarding their use as professional communication tools. I will then use rhetorical theory to explain why and how these media—specifically websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging sites—should be used to cultivate an online persona.

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