While we can see that our digital and non-digital worlds are becoming one, it is interesting to see that identities still can be kept very separate. I will admit the investigating activity we did in class is one I have taken on before – but I think I referred to it as creeping! I would say that has become more common practice when trying to find out who someone is prior to meeting them or wanting to find out more after meeting them. Yet, I question how many people truly are putting thought into the digital identity they are creating intentionally or unintentionally.
When thinking about my past, present, and future in terms of digital identity I have made some interesting conclusions. Going into the past the earliest online identity I believe I created was on Facebook in 2007. I remember my sister, who lived in Newfoundland at the time, was telling me about this great online site that I needed to join. She told me how everyone was on it where she lived and I told her that I didn’t think it would be that big here in Saskatchewan. What did I know?!? I joined and created a profile to share family photos and vacation pictures and to connect with friends and family. It was funny taking the time to go back to those first years. I especially enjoyed reading the status updates that used to be written in third person! I was already well into my career at this point so the fear of having pictures or posts on my profile that would be later taken as unprofessional is not something I had to face. I did share pictures of my family, including my children. As they got older my youngest would complain that I had shared a picture. Up until that point I had never thought about asking her if it was ok. Without realizing it at the time, I can see that I did begin to create my daughters’ online identities by sharing photos or bits of information about them.
I would also say that my online identity has been influenced by some of my family members who are in law enforcement. I have a family member who works in the Internet Child Exploitation Unit (ICE) and another who investigated identity fraud and identity theft which included online scams such as phishing scams, romance scams, CRA scams, and credit card scams. Their influence has been one of safety and one that has made me cautious of what I share. Not only to protect myself but to protect who they are. While I may be ok with being online, they have chosen to keep their identity offline in order to continue to do the work they do.
After Facebook, I joined Pinterest in 2011, Twitter in 2013, Instagram in 2014, and Snapchat in 2016. My use of Instagram and Snapchat are not contributing to my identity as I do not share anything on either of those platforms. Instagram is solely for me to follow others and Snapchat has been used for the map feature (to see where my teenager is) and for the funny filters to take pictures with my niece. While I have been on Twitter for seven years I haven’t tweeted my own thoughts very much. I am on it almost every day, reading articles, keeping up with others, and reading chats. I like tweets and re-tweet but just have not fully made myself vulnerable to share all of my own thoughts and opinions. My Twitter account is open which leaves it open for anyone to see. I guess when I think about it, the wanting to uphold a professional image takes over. However, this class is helping me understand how it is possible to have both.
When looking at the five different types of online identities I would say I definitely fall in the audience category in that I use different social media platforms for different purposes. It was reaffirming to see that this is the most common identity used throughout the internet. I really don’t see my identity type changing in the future as a fully open identity is not one that fits with who I am. My Twitter account has followers and I follow others who relate to my job as an educator. My Facebook account will continue to be used for connecting with friends and family. The use of these platforms fit a specific intended purpose for me. I enjoy that I can choose to spend some mindless time scrolling through my Facebook feed or catch up with news or the latest articles in education on Twitter.
As we think about the future in terms of digital identity it will be interesting to see if society’s thinking changes. Many people (me included) will say they are happy social media didn’t exist in their youth to document the choices that were made when they were young. We encourage our youth to take risks and learn from their mistakes but are we equipped with a society that is willing to forgive and forget those mistakes if they are documented on social media?