This week in EC&I 832, we were tasked with reflecting on the idea of digital identity and how our past, present and future practices relate to our own digital identity. I will explore:
- the concept of digital identity;
- my evolving digital identity from the past, present and future; and
- practices related to my students’ and daughter’s digital identities
What is digital identity?
Daina and Allison presented their video in class this week sharing an excellent overview of digital identity, first looking at the concept of identity followed by digital identity. In the video, they shared Nora Lizenberg’s definition that “a digital identity is the representation through a set of features of the identity of an individual that is used in some processes of interaction with others in distributed networks for recognition of the individual.”
That is a lot to take in, so here is my break down of the definition:
- “digital identity” (who and how we are represented online)
- “representation through a set of features” (features of online apps, like profile pictures, bios, etc)
- “used in some processes of interaction with others in distributed networks” (maybe through comments and posts on social media sites)
A few more definitions:
- “A person’s digital identity is an amalgamation of any and all attributes and information available online that can bind a persona to a physical person”. (Forbes.com)
- “A digital identity is always unique in the context of a digital service, but does
not necessarily need to uniquely identify the subject in all contexts. In other words, accessing a digital service may not mean that the subject’s real-life identity is known”. (NIST)
Overall, my understanding is that your digital identity begins with what you share about yourself online and information that is available to the public online. The challenge:
A Brief History of My Digital Identity:
It is the year 2000 and I am using my family computer, complete with dial-up Internet. I have patiently waited for my brother to get off ICQ so I could login to MSN Messenger. I am using the Hotmail e-mail I created with my dad (cutie_cat2000). First, I use Yahoo Search to look for meaningful song lyrics to add to my display name, then I patiently wait for my friends to appear online. I usually stay “offline” until someone important signs in, and the chatting begins. This ritual took place a few times a week and it was the beginning of life online.
- Digital identity so far: cutie_cat2000 e-mail address (I’m cute [haha], Cat as a nickname [although I was never called Cat] and it’s the year 2000)
Throughout the rest of elementary and high school, I explored various social media sites like Hi5 (remember when you could see who viewed your photos?), MySpace (top friend drama!) and Facebook (Grade 12 year, 2006-07). I wish I could remember a way to login to some of my old accounts, or to view the Geocities websites I made in the early days of my Internet journey. A few things I do remember are that I only shared a few very carefully selected photos on my profiles. Prior to about 2006, my digital footprint existed, but I can’t find any history of it today.
Enter Facebook. The beginning of the end. Multiple photo albums from single day events. Any picture is fair game – the more unflattering, the better. It was almost a game to tag friends in unfortunate photos before they had a change to review the tags, leaving a trace of our activities online forever.
- Digital identity in high school: hundreds of photos shared on Facebook, daily status updates of mundane life details and personal information in my bio like: full name, birthdate, location, school, job, relationship status, religious views, political views, favourite music, TV and movies, etc
- Quantity of posts over quality. No real “theme” or personal brand
University years, 2007-2013
I continued to use Facebook (it was a BIG deal in University) by sharing photos, comments and posts that usually had no purpose. One thing I remember with Facebook posts – I moved to Montreal for my undergrad, and I found that comments from my Saskatchewan friends often included bad language. I always deleted comments that made me feel uncomfortable or did not align with my values.
I also started using Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn during this period. I even purchased domain names in my name as a way to protect my digital identity. But I can honestly say that I didn’t really understand why I was doing it except that I might want it one day.
- Digital identity in University: becoming more aware of how my personal social media reflects who I am, therefore trying to control the type of posts and photos on my personal pages
- Using the same username across all sites as a way to create a personal brand (not sure why I did this, but someone probably told me it was a good idea.) After a digital cyber-sleuthing activity we completed in class this week, I probably would not do that again. Same username makes it very easy to find you online.
Transition period – 2014 – present
This time period of my life represents when I started working as a private piano teacher in Regina, school teacher with Regina Public Schools, followed by lots of travel and major life events (getting married, having our first child). As I developed my personal music lesson business, I became more aware of my digital identity online. I wanted to control the narrative and make sure that if potential clients ‘Googled’ me, they would be impressed with my accomplishments and feel confident in my abilities as a music teacher. I was trying to attract business, so I did a few things to “clean up” my digital footprint.
Digital identity in my professional life:
- Utilize LinkedIn profile and make connections in the community and arts industry
- Focus Twitter account on tweets related to music education and arts in our community. I wanted to appear as an active member of the Regina community.
- Create catherinereadymusic.com to attract students and provide information (I tried to direct all my social media posts about teaching piano directly to my website)
- Clean up Facebook photos albums, tagged photos and posts on my timeline (I hid most of my albums, made sure my profile was very private and was careful with what I posted online. I always asked myself, “would a parent hire me to teach their child if they saw this?”)
Luckily these efforts were not wasted, as they led into my career as a teacher with Regina Public Schools. I wanted potential human resource professionals to be impressed if they Googled my name, so I check out my name frequently online. Fortunately, “Catherine Ready” brings up websites and photos that I have selected or given permission to post online.
Present – Future
Over the last couple of years, I have been more selective with the photos and information I post online. While I consider myself someone who shares online, I try not ‘spam’ my friends and family with daily content (except for Snapchat – send baby and dog photos to a few family members). As a family, my husband and I made a few rules and guidelines to follow when posting about our daughter. Mostly, we try to share happier moments and avoid naked baby photos. As my classmate Leigh mentions in her post about Digital Identity, I try to make use of the ISTE STEP approach when posting online.
As I look towards the future with my family and students, I reflect on the different types of online identities. These types should consider security, privacy and anonymity and include:
- Open – shared through all platforms
- Avoidance – avoid all online activities and social media
- Audience – use different social media platforms for different purposes
- Content – carefully considered and curated content
- Compartmentalization – different identities on different platforms
- Past (early years) – OPEN user, sharing freely and exploring social media
- Past (University years) – AUDIENCE user – lots of different platforms for different reasons
- Present (Professional years) – AUDIENCE user, shifting to a CONTENT user. For example – Instagram is for curated photos and closer friends, Facebook is to share with teacher friends and family, Twitter is for professional life (no personal life)
- Future – I am beginning to see a shift towards a COMPARTMENTALIZATION user, especially as I consider how I want my daughter’s identity to grow online.
Returning to the question posed by Common Sense Media: How can I cultivate my digital identity in ways that are responsible and empowering? In the ISTE White Paper, “Building and Keeping a Positive Digital Identity” (2015) , five essential questions are presented to think about when building a digital identity:
- What information am I sharing
- How secure is it?
- Whom am I sharing it with?
- What am I leaving behind?
- What are my rights?
Furthermore, these questions can help “kick-start meaningful conversations about online behavior, help students understand the broader impact that online identity can have in their daily lives, and provide a foundation of understanding for adopting appropriate online practices” (ISTE, 2015). On Twitter, a few classmates (Amanda, Leigh, Shelby and Nancy) had a great discussion about encouraging a positive online presence.
— Catherine Ready (@Catherine_Ready) February 27, 2020
The general consensus is that parents and teachers need to be part of the conversation to help young people build positive digital identities and encourage responsible interactions online. By working with younger generations, we can empower our students and children to make choices that enhance their digital identity.
Until next time,