8 Things About Online Identities Our Teachers Will Not Tell Us
Digital Identity is More Than Public Posts
Teachers love to lecture students about using caution when posting content on their Facebook walls and Twitter pages, or their photos will end up on a billboard in another country.
However, this fails to address major concerns about a vast majority of other far more sensitive data comprising an online identity or a digital identity.
A digital identity is information grouped into two different categories: digital activities and digital attributes.
Digital activity is the sum total of a person’s journey online.
Anything a person does online is fair game as an identifier: a person’s search history, their purchase history, app use data, location tracking based on geotags, IP addresses, and phone data.
As many know, a digital identity includes social media activity including photos, comments, likes, shares, and posts.
Digital attributes are specific personal details to verify someone’s online identity and grant them access to digital spaces.
These are the most important pieces of information attached to someone’s identity.
This category includes identifiers found on official documentation such as birth dates, social security numbers, drivers’ licenses, government ID numbers, or passport numbers.
Digital attributes include digitally collected data specific to an individual, such as a person’s medical history, bank details, usernames, passwords/tokens, email, phone number, and any biometric data, e.g., fingerprint, eye scan, face map, etc.
Any one of these forms of identity, individually or in combination, can be used online by entities who want to find out about individuals’ identities.
These digital identities will help companies understand how best to engage with their population of web users, while permitting web users to more effectively engage with their online world.
Online Identity, as Permanent as Offline Identity
As human identities become more linked and searchable, these identities have become increasingly more challenging to change.
As teachers (and parents) love to point out, photos and information posted on social media, in a text, or in an email, will be there, forever, even if it is deleted, but they never explained the true potential for damage.
There will always be the residue of the search, the statement, or the video left behind.
Old information can always come back to bite someone, even if it no longer reflects the reality of the person today.
This is problematic because people remain accountable for themselves across time at every stage of life maturity.
Every moment of experimentation can be publicized, even if they abandoned this ‘self’ long ago.
Careless posts, questionable purchases, weird searches, and shameful internet accounts can haunt a user for the rest of their life. People can be ruined by things stated decades before.
People with a criminal past, substance abuse history, or other publicly distasteful qualities can find past sins electronically haunting them.
This so-called “google-stalking,” can make it impossible to heal and move on from significant traumas, particularly those linked to an identity.
If a mother experienced a loss, the constant bombardment of child-and-mom oriented advertisements could trigger immeasurable grief.
Indeed, it could slow the process of healing by constantly indirectly reminding the mom of the missing child.
Somebody triumphantly returning from rehab probably does not want to see advertisements for rehab centers and addiction call centers as soon as they open their computer.
Our online identity cannot immediately change like our physical self. It takes longer for the internet to register a change in a person’s identity.
This lag time can result in dragging someone through mud, which they already overcame.
Online Identity Reduces Anonymity
Teachers and parents, in my experience, have wanted anonymity for kids because it helps a child stay safe from harmful individuals who would take advantage of the child’s digital identity.
Anonymity keeps a person’s name a secret, so they can freely share without putting a target on their “real life” back.
However, as the web identities we create become more permanent and pervasive, it becomes impossible to be truly anonymous.
There will always be a way authorities, companies, and scammers can find out who someone is online.
Unless, the web user takes extra steps to cover their tracks, including using an obfuscating software.
Alternatively, you can sign onto a Virtual Private Network or a VPN.
Most websites and services require, at a minimum, an email or phone number, but, most often, both to sign-up.
Additionally, some may require a person to connect their account to a Google, Microsoft, or Facebook account; some settings will automate this process for the user.
No matter what you are doing online, you can, and will, be identified by any number of connections between your activity on that site and your online identity.
Prospective Employers Search Online
Teachers may mention this to their students to support the argument that young people should be careful to preserve their online image.
It is well-established employers will look at the online profiles of applicants applying for jobs.
However, teachers do not mention that this continues, even after a person has been hired.
A 2018 poll found almost half of employers track their employees on social media and over one-third of employers fired an employee due to content posted online.
This goes for anyone: if you have a job you love and care about, you should be choosy about posts, discerning.
Social Media and Search Engines Want Single Identities
Teachers probably are not telling their students this fact, but the influential companies of the internet want your entire online life to be connected together in a patchwork of “you-specific data.”
Google and Facebook, in particular, are moving towards creating this world, where your offline personalities and traits are combined in a multifaceted online “authentic self.”
They want online and offline identities to be seamless and distinguishable, as if a real-life person because it’s easier to connect with people who want to know you.
It is more convenient for companies to understand how to target you with marketing. After all, it pays to know the customer.
Companies Release Personal Identification Data
Search companies, e.g., White Pages, and credit reporting companies, e.g., Equifax, are only two of the thousands of companies who make money from cataloging and selling available online information to interested parties.
However, many companies have been selling highly personal information, including health records, social statistics, and purchasing habits to other companies who would like to sell to you, even if you are not interested.
To make matters worse, companies store information for harmless purposes (such as health data centers or online bank accounts) that can be hacked, so personal information is unintentionally released into the wrong hands.
Even if we are extremely careful with the information provided and connected to our identity, trusted third parties could accidentally be responsible for losing protected data.
To find out more about the companies that use your information, please visit here.
Social Media Sites Showcase Individual Identities Differently
Contrary to what your mom or what your teacher might say, not all social media sites are the same.
This is important to keep in mind because each social media site does have unique purposes depending on the person’s goals.
Social media sites, if used strategically, can help students, and adults, tame their image by limiting themselves to only the most beneficial platforms.
According to Waidner-Spahr Library, Facebook and Instagram are used to maintain a personal image. They are great platforms for advertising.
Whereas, LinkedIn and Twitter are better for professional development and networking.
Protect Online Identity
Teachers will encourage students to be safe online and not share their personal information.
However, they do not seem to emphasize how important it is to stay vigilant online at all times.
Any moment of laziness or carelessness can result in your identity being stolen; and the outcome of that can vary widely from a minor inconvenience to financial devastation.
With the exceptional connectedness of everything online, criminals can have access to your entire life with only a handful of passwords and numbers.
Everyone should always seek to improve their internet ways so they can continuously keep their online identity safe.