If we were living in the past, say 40 years back, “identity” would probably be defined by physical markers; someone’s identity could stem from what they wore, how they spoke, what kind of music they listened to, and the like. Identity could be found in career; this person is a businessman, and that person is an artist. Identity could be carved from personality; she is a happy, joyful girl, and he is a pensive introvert. People didn’t have another identity unless they were a double agent. It could be true that their identity consisted of many things, but most markers could be seen on the surface.
Now that we’re knee-deep into the digital age, things have changed a bit. Online, a person can have as many identities as they want; anyone can become a new person entirely with a few clicks, meaning they can transform themselves into something or somebody far from who they truly are (MTV’s Catfish, anyone?). This isn’t isolated to social media like Facebook and Instagram; professional profiles on sites such as LinkedIn can be fabricated as well, making it difficult for employers to find trustworthy employees (this article shares an employer’s perspective on an employee who did just that). In shorter terms, it’s easy to be misleading or dishonest about who you are online, which can cause a thousand unnecessary problems for everyone involved.
So, how do we manage our web identity and craft it to be an asset rather than a detriment? More importantly, how do we educate our students on the importance of keeping a positive and appropriate presence online? Once again, we find the answer in none other than digital citizenship!
To understand identity on the web, first we must understand what exactly digital citizenship is. This short clip does an excellent job explaining digital citizenship and what it means to be a good digital citizen. There are five main categories, including privacy, ownership, participation, trustworthiness, and (you guessed it) identity:
It’s discouraging to hear that there is an ethics problem within our young digital citizens, but a good chunk of that can be attributed to lack of digital literacy education. Many teachers are recognizing this and are reflecting on what it takes to be digitally literate and conscious about our online identity. Katherine Solokowski’s article about her journey with teaching digital citizenship and identity has some great tips; talking about what’s appropriate to post online, the permanence of what you post, and how that affects peoples’ view of you are just a few. This post from The Learning Network also contains good pointers, including reading your posts from an outsider’s perspective and doing “drills” with fake profiles to make students think about how to craft their web identity.
Perhaps the greatest advice I read came from Katherine Solokowski’s blog. She recognizes that students will inevitably make mistakes; they will post something they’ll regret or may not behave as they should online, but if she can act as a role model for digital citizenship her students can have at least one positive influence online. She hopes that her students will see her optimism and model that in their own presence online. This, to me, is one of the best ways to teach students about what a good online identity looks like;
Each of us have a digital footprint; we all have a voice and an identity online, and it’s important that we make it our strongest brand possible. It’s also important that we teach our students to do the same, because by doing that we will be creating a multitude of responsible digital citizens.