"You are a vile human being!"
"I can't believe you are allowed to say the things you do."
"I want you dead."
I was hurt, confused and shocked. What had I said or done to make people say these things to me? And they came in a flood. Over and over for several days, several years ago.
Then I started doing some searching of my name. To my surprise there was a person who had the same name as me who holds many hateful and racist beliefs. These tweets were the result of some press coverage he was getting being denied entry to several countries. Many people were coming to Twitter, searching for his name and my feed was coming up because of the same name, of follower count and engagement levels. Even though I had a clearly written bio and links to my websites it didn't matter.
(I am not linking to this person because he is terrible and doesn't deserve the traffic and I am not including the tweets because the people that sent them made a mistake. Many apologized to me privately and deleted the original tweets. Since then Twitter reached out to me to have me Verified so my profile is more prominent in search so this doesn't happen again. This is why I use my middle initial in everything I do. If you search my name with my middle initial the first few pages of search results are of me. And its why I use my personal brand in everything I do as well.)
Our digital identities are fast becoming, if they haven't already, how we are identified in this 24/7, internet-connected world. For many people that we encounter, both online and off, our digital identity is how we are seen and known. Much of it is within our control but some of it is beyond. Therefore, we have to do all that is possible to take control of our digital identity and manage it constantly.
The same is true for the students we teach. For the vast majority of them their digital identities began with the first photo of them shared at their birth and has and will continue for several years to come. As parents we are in control of not only our digital identities but those of our kids as well. As educators we have an obligation to talk and teach our students how to put their best foot forward in this evolving digital world.
4 Ways To Manage Your Digital Identity
What Can You Find About Yourself Right Now? Have you ever Googled yourself? What do you think you will find? You've read my story and I've heard from countless people similar stories. You never know what is out there, either generated by you or by others. Blog posts, social media posts, images from conferences, articles, videos, you might be surprised at what you will find.
So Google yourself. But don't just stop at the first page of results. Look at the images, videos and news. Also use different variations of your name. Different spellings, middle initials, even narrowing results by location. This can give you a good sense of what is out there already. And if there is nothing you have a clean slate to start from.
And you have to do this often. But why not put the power of search to your advantage. I love Google Alerts for this. I can set up tons of different searches for my name, brand, books, anything really and the results are delivered to my inbox each day.
Take Control Of Yourself! Now that you have googled yourself and seen just what is out there it's time to take control. Some simple things you can do:
- Write a bio-If you don't have one, write one! You never know when you'll need it. And write several different variations. 50/75/100 words are perfect for conference session proposals and social media. Over 100 for anything else you want to use it for. Then you want to use that same bio anywhere there is a place for it.
- Get a headshot-Don't waste your money on professional headshots (unless you have a photog friend). Your mobile device will take images at high enough resolutions you can get great images. You just need a friend to take the photos for you. And you don't have to make them cheesy. Yes we know you like to climb trees but we just care what you look like. In fact my current headshot I use everywhere is one taken by a dear friend that wasn't even set up as headshot. It just worked out that way.
- Get a landing page- Set up a personal website or single landing page. About.me is great for this. It's a simple webpage that you can customize with your bio, image and links to anything you want anyone to know about you.
Now you can use all these across the apps and sites you use like Twitter, your blog, your website, resume, anywhere you want people to find out who you are. And the more you use them, the more they will show up in search. The key is consistency.
Privacy, Privacy, Privacy! Now that you are using these apps and sites you will want to spend time with the privacy settings of each. It's important to know how much of the information you share can be seen and what that service does with your information. Take Twitter for example. You can choose to show or not show your birthday, location or be found by your mobile number. Many of these services also allow third party apps to access your information (Facebook is a great example of this.) You will want to check what apps have access to your profiles and how much. (Maybe its time to revoke access of Farmville from your Facebook page.)
Privacy policies are full of legal jargon but you should know what is happening to your (and students) data, your images and your information before you use anything. (Perhaps we could all learn from a recent app that, if you used it, now has the rights to use your image any time, anywhere, forever, just by loading an image into it.) Review these policies and talk to kids about them too. They need to know how their data, images and information are used both in the classroom and outside.
Share, Share, Share! A great way for you to get going is to not only set up bios and headshots and landing pages but also contribute to the wider body of knowledge. Start a blog and share what you are doing in your classroom, what you are learning and reading or ideas you have. Participating in Twitter chats or anything you post on social media with hashtags can also be a great way to build your digital identity. Did you present at a conference? Post the presentation and/or notes to your website and blog about it! Any thing you create you want to share with the world post it.
The same goes for our students. They need to have the same opportunities as adults to build their digital identities. Those classroom blog posts and comments, make them public. Those digital portfolios, make them public too. Creating a website takes just a few minutes and has become as easy as sending email. Some districts are even purchasing domain names for their students and transferring ownership after they graduate. Several more are giving them their drives and directories as well. All this can be a part of a comprehensive digital citizenship program that teaches students how live the best digital life possible.
Whether we like it or not, the internet is forever. What we post and what we comment on lives on long after we are gone. So while we are here and in control lets do all we can to manage and protect our digital identities. And help our students do the same!