(Digital) Identities, Cyber-Sleuthing, and Digital Empathy

After reading Dallas, Luke, and Logan’s blogs and our required readings this week, I was inspired to do a self-check-up on my digital identity. I have googled myself in the past, but haven’t had the urge to do it recently. Last term in EC&I 832, the whole theme was digital citizenship and media literacies and so the reading this week were something I grew quite passionate about last term. How does our digital footprint (or even our digital tattoo) impact our future?

The video below delves into this question of our (digital) identities and how they might impact our future.

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Regina Morning Live- Social Media Sanfus

To do a self-check-up, I thought I would go through the digital identity and digital citizenship exercises as shared by Alec Couros in September 2015.

The following questions were asked:

  • If you Googled yourself, what would you find?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • Are you happy with what you found?

I thought I had a pretty decent idea of what I would find when I googled myself as I learned to manage and create a strong digital identity back in 2009 when I took ECMP 455. However, when I googled myself under my new last name, I didn’t find as much as anticipated. I knew I would find my blog, anything school related, Twitter account, and a few other random online sites, but I honestly thought I would find more. Nothing really surprised me, except for the fact that there was so little and I was quite happy with what I found. Although I am not a master cyber-sleuther like Katia Hildebrandt, who was able to dig up copious amounts of information on someone in 30 minutes, I am pleased with what I found.

As I think about my digital dossier, I quite pleased with my lifelong accumulation of digital footprints that shape my identity. I have worked hard to manage my digital identity and have tried to create an online identity that not only depicts who I am, but also showcases the positive aspects about me. This may be creating a bit of split image, but it is the identity I am proud to share on the internet.

Another question presented in the document is:

How do we deal with information about our identity that is false, that we’re not proud of, or things that we’d rather forget?

We are creating a (digital) identity in a world that no longer forgets and it is important be critical about what you see and find online before passing judgement. Some key points when finding problematic posts or other content that may not represent the best image of an individual are:

  1. Context and Audience Matters
  2. Intent Matters
  3. History Matters
  4. Authorship Matters
  5. Empathy Matters

I encourage you to head over to Alec or Katia’s blog post on (digital) identity to further your understanding on how to critically examine online artefacts and to increase your awareness of digital empathy and understanding.

 

 

The tool may change, but the issues remain the same.

“If you’re going to ignore social media in the classroom, then throw out the ISTE Standards for Students and stop pretending that you’re 21st century.” – Vicki Davis

In A Guidebook for Using Social Media in the Classroom, Vicki Davis lists a bunch of hypothetical questions regarding letter writing, e-mails, and social media. I wonder if these were actual concerns for teachers when they thought about letter writing and establishing pen pals. If I think back to when I was in school, I actually think this was a concern. I remember writing letters in my Operation Christmas Child Shoebox and was told not to put any specific details about my identity (address, last name, etc.) in my letter. However, this form of writing was very powerful and since I am talking about it right now, it definitely had an impact on me.

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Jason Howle via https://flic.kr/p/e5wZ3t

The “fear” of taking learning outside of the 4 walls of the classroom has always been there. There are risks in everything we do. We cannot allow the “fears” of using social media in the classroom outweigh the benefits. Students will be exposed to social media and engage and create a mediated online identity whether or not we include social media in the classroom. It is our job to help them become digital citizens and digital leaders. As Vanessa said, “the use of social media in the classroom can and should be promising. Like the calculator though, unless students are taught how to use it effectively (as students), it has the potential of becoming problematic.”

Many kids are leaving social networks and transitioning out of broadcast social media (Facebook and Twitter) and switching to narrowcast tools (Messengers and Snapchat). They are personalizing their social media experience and prefer to share more transient posts with their closest friends rather than portraying a sanitized split life. Some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day, when they are not posting on social media, they are lurking. With that being said, I am sure the tool in which students use to participate will continue to change, but the social lives of networked teens will continue to encounter complicated and complex issues.

Students will participate in social media either way… How can we harness the power of social media in our schools? How can we teach students to use social media effectively? Why is it so important for us to explicitly address the complicated and complex issues of social media?

There are many risks and benefits of allowing children going online, as teachers and parents it is our job to model and teach students how to participate online appropriately. We cannot ignore social media in the classroom, in the school, and the impact it has on our students lives.

 

Has your identity changed over the years?

Identity. What is identity? Who defines your identity? Can your identity change or once it is formed does it follow you forever?

Merriam-Webster defines identity as

: who someone is : the name of a person

: the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others

Your online identity is described on Wikipedia as

: Internet identity (also called IID), or internet persona is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites. It can also be considered as an actively constructed presentation of oneself.

In the past, people used to feel shielded behind the screen and viewed their online presence as an anonymous presence, being able to be anyone or thing they wanted to be. However, this is changing as we are becoming digital residents, leaving pieces of ourselves online each time we sign on and giving personal information to websites as digital identifiers.

Photo Credit: Steve Ramsthel via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Steve Ramsthel via Compfight cc

Additionally, even though we may seem anonymous in our presentation online, we are posting putting ourselves out there into a world that never forgets. As we are posting into this vast online world, we are vulnerable to a variety of interpretations. Wesch describes this as a context collapse.

“The images, actions, and words captured by the lens at any moment can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved (the performer must assume) for all time.” – Michael Wesch, July 23, 2008.

As well as images, actions, and words being captured and transported anywhere and preserved, they are also open to many different understandings. This is something I have struggled with in this course and posting my reflections online for many to see, keep, and interpret. I don’t consider myself a very skilled writer, so putting my thoughts into words and posting them for others to read is something I struggle with. I also tried my first vlog in this course and it took me many attempts to get the video I thought was “acceptable” to post.

So why do I struggle with putting myself out there in the online world, when I find myself to be quite the people person in the face-to-face setting? Perhaps it is because I am creating an online identity in a world that is less forgiving and doesn’t forget.

Jeffrey Rosen, explains this phenomena in is article on “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” In his article he gives many examples of people who lost jobs, were denied privileges, and essentially publically shamed because of something that was posted online. Additionally, companies are doing their research on potential employees by conducting online searches of people. Have we lost our ability for a second chance?

When I think back to my adolescence and some of the ridiculous, yet harmless, things my sister and I would do in our spare time and imagine if these were shared online, it makes me cringe. My already hard adolescence years would have been caught for others to judge and share, without the context I shared with my sister. Then to think of the mistakes that were made during my teenage years, which have long been forgotten.

Rosen explains that we are now experiencing a “collective identity crisis.” We used to be able to shape our identity dependent on the different role you were in (at home, at work, at sports, etc); however, the idea of an augmented reality and digital dualism is changing this ability, since all our identities are intertwined.

Photo Credit: smartwayblog via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: smartwayblog via Compfight cc

So how do we defend our online identities? How do we teach youth to be forward thinking and present an acceptable identity for when they “grow up”? How do we create a community of forgiveness and empathy in the online world? How can we stress the importance of “owning” your digital footprint?

Are We Living a Split Life?

The way social media impacts our online identities is something I reflect upon regularly, but the course readings and videos from this week really struck me. It is hard to believe the impact that social media has on our reality. And the reality of it is, young Canadians are growing up in a wired world.

Young Canadiana Life Online

Graphic via Media Smarts retreived from: http://mediasmarts.ca/ycww

It is hard to believe how much of our online presence is impacted by an algorithm which shapes the content we are shown. Sites such as Facebook are experts at this, deciding which posts we should see through a mathematical equitation. This is something that really grinds my gears as only became aware of this algorithm after reading “Facebook – Our ffriendly automated identity bender” by Jason Miller.  I had a feeling Facebook somehow was differentiating what I should see due to the content of my News Feed, but I was unaware of the invisible criteria. Miller’s post lead me to a post by Danah Boyd regarding what the Facebook experiment teaches us. It is hard to believe that Facebook chooses who we should see and interact with (just so we will come back again… and again). Furthermore, does what we see have a greater impact than just coming back? Does it affect us emotionally?

Facebook created a mood manipulation experiment to find that exact question out. Is Facebook slowly changing the way we see the world through this invisible power?

“Because so many people, rightly or wrongly, use the platform as their primary communication medium, Facebook’s news item filtering algorithms can have a direct impact on what kind of person your ffriends think you are.” – Jason Millar

But this isn’t only Facebook’s problem. The way social media impacts our identity is prevalent on all social media sites. Additionally our identity is shaped in what we choose to post and how we choose to perceive others posts. In the case of Madison Holleran, her life seemed to be ideal, by what she was posting on Instagram, but what was missing was the parts of her life you can’t see… the hardships, struggles, and depression.  The hashtag campaign #LifeUnfiltered opens the conversation of how much we filter our real self on social. Our identities are often projecting a spilt image, depicting to your social network, the person you want them to see. Are we masking depression online? Why do we feel the need to compare ourselves to others online?

So I leave you with this question: Are our lives really an augmented reality? Do we really experience digital dualism? Or are we living a split life between online and offline, presenting the “person we want to be” in our online identities?

Digital Citizenship is for Everyone

For the past couple of years, the dangerous term digital natives has been used to describe people under the age of 18. The reason I refer to this term as dangerous is because there was/is an assumption that young people were natives to technology, the internet, and navigating online. Nevertheless, just because they are brought up in a digital world, does not make them digital citizens. Being literate in the digital world and with media should be looked at like continuum, there are varying degrees of use.

Often when we think about digital citizenship and media literacy we tend to think of schools and children. However, digital citizenship and media literacy is not just for kids. Cyberbullying and online shaming is one of the issues faced by kids and adults alike. One of the earliest instances of this online shaming happened in 1998 by Monica Lewinsky. Although social media was not in the picture as it is the today, she lost her reputation on a global scale instantaneously through the power of World Wide Web.

Fast forward a few years and the online shaming is worse off. The creation of social media, such as, Twitter, gives a voice to the voiceless, but in some ways it has created a sub culture of online shaming. We are now turning to the online world for social media shaming. For example, Justine Sacco lost her job, reputation, and much more with one tweet:

Justine Sacco's Tweet
Justine Sacco’s Tweet

Although this tweet is racist and should not be tolerable, the response to her tweet from others on twitter are just as intolerable. Ronson quotes Meghan O’Gieblyn from the Boston Review saying, “This isn’t social justice. It’s a cathartic alternative.” Because we are hiding behind a screen, many rush to judgement or speak before they think and with the internet this can have harsh consequences. Sometimes through this public shaming we are losing site of the big picture.

The problem of cyberbullying is a growing issue.  It is so easy to rush to judgement, say hurtful things and post online without thinking. Because the online world is our augmented reality and is so intertwined with our offline lives, we really need to think critically about what we are posting, sharing, and creating. Another example of not thinking before posting is Geris Hilton’s racist post about his coworker’s son. What upsets me the most is the ongoing jokes and comments in the sidebar. I have much respect for Cayden’s family in trying to focus on the positive and sharing what a beautiful child Cayden is through the hashtag #HisNameIsCayden.

Geris Hilton's Facebook
Geris Hilton’s Facebook

It is important to think of the following questions when you are online:

Would you say what you are going to type to that person in real life? Would you be ok with posting this in a public place for others to see? Does your post have a purpose?

I think we need to use our “common sense” when online, just as we do offline.

But let’s remember the positives too… there are positive impacts on social relations, it allows us to teach authentically through project-based, cooperative learning, and inquiry-oriented approaches, and it allows us to connect globally with limited costs.

Photo Credit: aa1083 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: aa1083 via Compfight cc

“School is the exact place we should be teaching students to live one responsible life as a citizen, in the digital world and the physical world.”

It is all worth it and it is so important to teach and model how to be a digital citizen. The future is unpredictable and changes very quickly, but the one constant is us as humans. How can we use these dramatic changes to enhance and transform the way we do things? Are we making time for conversations? Are we having conversations around digital citizenship? Is our time spent online, time well spent?

Our Mediated Online Identities

Social media has allowed us to make connections with family, friends, and online communities like never before. Many people find extreme comfort and life-long connections with people they have met online. People are able to make connections with others far away, join chat rooms or forums for support, and reach a greater audience. This is impacting our online identities and offline relationships.

This is impacting our identities and there is a shift from having two identities (online and offline) to one augmented reality. Our public life is being shared through various SMSs to represent the person we want to be. This an referred to as an ambient intimacy. An ambient intimacy argues that even though we are sharing snippets of our lives, all the snippets add up to create a bigger picture. I agree partially with this idea as I enjoy seeing small updates of my family members who are too far to communicate with on a regular basis. But I also have a critical eye when viewing these shared moments.  

The main challenge I see with sharing our online identities is how mediated they are. People (myself included) tend to share only the “perfect” pictures or “highlight” moments. I know I am guilty of untagging myself in a picture where I don’t like the way I look… or taking a photo MANY times before posting it online… or recording a video many times before posting…. AND I am sure you are guilty too.

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So why is this a challenge? Although I see our augmented reality and ambient intimacy as a positive as it is allowing us to connect with others, I often think it is warping our sense of reality. What is real? Body image was a huge topic of discussion when I was growing up and how models were portrayed on magazines and in movies. I feel like now everyone is able to access filters, Photoshop, lightning, etc. to achieve a flawless photo. I can see this being an issue with vulnerable youth who are trying to achieve something that is enhanced.

Digital Dualism is old? Now we experience an Augmented Reality?

I really enjoyed reading the article IRL Fetish by Nathan Jurgenson as it made me think critically about the online world, specifically social media, and how it is influencing our behaviour. My classmates Harmony, Amy, Jillian, Andrew and Genna also made connections to this article and raise similar questions to me on how we can find balance in our lives and how we cannot discredit the power of the online world as it has great potential to savour moments and create positive change.

Photo Credit: winnifredxoxo via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: winnifredxoxo via Compfight cc

So for my selected reading this week, I decided to delve deeper into how social media is influencing our lives and chose another reading by Jurgenson called Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality. With the increased use of social media every day in our lives it has caused us to classify between being present in the digital world (online) and the physical world (offline), this can be referred to as digital dualism. But is this idea outdated?

Nathan Jurgenson thinks it is, he argues that although digital dualists see “the digital world is ‘virtual’ and the physical world ‘real’” (2011) they are not separate, they are mashed. Our online and offline lives are so intertwined we aren’t creating a second person in the virtual world, but rather living out our lives in the both the virtual and physical worlds and they both influence each other. A more proper term would be White’s term of visitors and residents. Although some of us see the internet as a collection of tools and don’t leave a trace and others see at as a collection of places and are still present even when they log off, there is no “second self.” The digital world directly influences our physical world and our physical world directly influences the digital world.

Jurgenson purposes an “alternative of view that states that our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once” (2011). Our reality is not a digital dualism, but rather an augmented reality. We are past the point of separating our digital self and our physical self. Digital dualism is old news. We are now living in “one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits. And our selves are not separated across these two spheres as some dualistic “first” and “second” self, but is instead an augmented self” (Jugenson, 2011).

He concludes his post by raising a critical question about our lives being influenced by social media in this augmented reality.

Is a reality augmented by digitality a good thing?

There are many opposing viewpoints on this question and to some degree I think it is a good thing, but then in another I think we need to really look at this critically.

During the first week of class, we were shared two videos that encompass this idea of an augmented reality.

The first video was Photos Every Day.


In this video I see people being so obsessed with taking photos and showcasing the lives they want to show. They edit, filter, retake, and delete until they have the perfect photo.

This video gives me a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and my answer to the question “Is a reality augmented by digitality a good thing?” would be NO.

But then, in the video FaceTime Every Day, I get a totally different feeling.

My answer to the question “Is a reality augmented by digitality a good thing?” would be YES.

I believe Turkle has summed up my viewpoint at this time about our augmented reality in her recent article, Stop Googling, Let’s Talk. She says, “it is not about giving up our phones but about using them with greater intention” (Turkle, 2015). We always talk about purpose and authenticity when we educate. Maybe we should think about this with our phones and social media. What is our purpose? Is it really necessary to check it now or is it just filling a void? Are generally using your phone for authentic purposeful reasons or just to be on it and connect? Sometimes I think we confuse meaningful/purposeful connections with just going on to connect… But I could be wrong.

References:

N Jurgenson. (2011, February 24). Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality. Retrieved from http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/02/24/digital-dualism-versus-augmented-reality/

S Turkle. (2015, September 26). Stop Googling, Let’s Talk. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/opinion/sunday/stop-googling-lets-talk.html?_r=2