MET:Managing online identity

From UBC Wiki

Originally authored by Phil Sweezey (2013)

Online identities:

The proliferation of Web 2.0 tools and the emergence of the Semantic Web or Web 3.0 tools has increased the amount personal data on the web. As Don Tapscott references in Grown up DIgital, "this is a generation bathed in bits". [1] There are an ever growing number of social networks that are constantly being created for one purpose or another, purportedly providing greater connectivity and collaboration on any number of fields. Marshall McLuhan first predicted that the internet would become "an extension of our consciousness". His Global Village has manifested itself and has permeated many different domains:

Social Advertisement networks:

Social Commerce networks:

Social Entrepreneur networks:

Social Foodie networks:

Social Dieting networks:

Social location updating networks:

Social Photo networks

Social networks:

Social Networking explained:

This sites listed above give users a range of options to choose from, depending upon their interests and hobbies. The most commonly used sites being Facebook and Twitter with 1 billion [2] and 500 million [3] users respectively. These sites have accumulated vast amounts of user generated data which has created an internet of people. This new surge of personal data is being titled as the Semantic Web and is a drastic shift in the way the internet has been used. [4]

The dangers of Social Networks

Andrew Keen, a polemicist that believes that the advent of social networking sites and the mission by some to "eliminate loneliness"is a naive notion that he believes is dangerous. Keen contends that without time for solitude and reflection, mystery and individual thought and creativity will become lost in a sea of crowdsourcing [5]. Keen fears that we are an in an era of permanent self-exhibitionism that can only lead to a collective self destruction. He draws a stark comparison between our individual quests to become hyper-visible (those with the most updates being the most visible), and Jeremy Bentham's request to be permanently display in his Auto-Icon after his death. He maintains that Jeremy's vision of the "Inspection House" has become a reality, but on social networks. The notion behind the Inspection House was to create all government run buildings in the same fashion. Simple circular architecture with see through walls, so that those working felt accountable to those around them. His comparison between this model and how we have moved our identities online to be on display for all those to see, will have drastic consequences. Each time we subscribe to a new service we are splintering our identity even further and need to take into account that the networks themselves are not neutral or passive in nature. That each one of these sites has a dedicated purpose and therefore will inevitably influence the content the user wishes to upload to that site. [6]

The benefits of Social Networks

However, there are many proponents that believe that these social networking sites have great potential and should become a more integral part of Education. The education departments of British Columbia and New Brunswick have both released education plans and corresponding YouTube videos to promote these networks and their use in schools:

Steve Wheeler, is on the other side of the argument, stating that a stronger focus and direct instruction on digital literacies, specifically covering how to properly manage their online identities is a more prudent approach [7] He provides support for his views that suggest that proper instruction on proper use of social networking sites will enable students to develop a robust set of skills they can utilize to retrieve more accurate and up to date information. The ability to skim for pertinent information within websites and proper online searching techniques are important in this new web. He also believes that they need to developing networking skills and have the ability to foster professional relationships online with people in their fields of interest or study. This piece is integral as he states that is is not what you know, but who you know. It is his notion that there are intelligent communities online that are rich resources to be tapped.

Maintaining Identity

"For any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary. Prediction and control consist in avoiding this subliminal state of Narcissus trance. But the greatest aid to this end is simply in knowing that the spell can occur immediately upon contact, as in the first bars of a melody." [8] This quote from Marshall McLuhan clearly dictates the importance of educating our students on proper social media use. Ubiquitous high speed internet and the increasing number of teenagers with smartphones means that this generation needs to more cognicient of maintaining their identities. These computational objects are creating a relationship between the users and the objects. These relationships are becoming increasingly intimate, and as Sherry Turkle contends, influences the way we interpret the world. [9] This object and the sites it allows teenagers access to, provides them with the opportunity to live out fantasies. Erik Erikson's concept of "psychosocial moratorium" plays out much differently in today's social network, as these sites offer limitless opportunities for teenagers to experiment. Although, this is a healthy activity, depending often and to what extent the user decides to depart from reality can have consequences. With the increasing number of sites and the affordances they offer, teenagers need to be mindful that they don't fragment their identities. With each site influencing the users interactions and what they post, they need to maintain their individuality. [10]

Social disruption as a moment for reconstruction

Paulo Friere was a philosopher of education. He stated, we need to be aware of the potential that technologies have as a tool of oppression [11]. He believed that the youth need to taught this concept as well as how these tools can be used for empowerment. His focus was on incorporating media literacy in the classroom within a framework that focuses on reading, writing, self-reflection, cultural identity, and political agency, we will be empowering our next generation to use these tools for good. [12] This would help establish a critical consciousness within the next generation, better preparing them for further integration of technology into society, as well as providing a level playing ground for the current inequities in our current education system. Kahn & Kellner proposed that Social Networking sites could become one of Illich’s [13] “tools of conviviality,” by promoting learning, sociality, community and autonomous and creative relationships between students and their environment.

Online privacy policies

All of these social media sites have user agreements and privacy policies that define the websites intentions with the content its users upload and post. There has been much discussion around this issue but often government legislation around these policies is often out of date or overlooked. However, on October 16th 2012 the European Union Data Protection Authorities published their investigations into Google's new privacy policy as well as their recommendations. [14] [15]The main findings surrounded the lack of clearly defined policies that had incomplete information. It is pertinent that users are aware of how their information is being used. This is especially relevant for educators, as they need to teach students where to go on common social networking sites to better manage their online presence.

Managing privacy

File:Internet dog.jpg
Peter Steiner's cartoon, as published in The New Yorker.

Each site has to disclose how they will use the will use your information, as well as provide options for limiting the amount that your uploads and posts are being used. The following links are all of the privacy information for Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. When individuals decide to subscribe to one of these services it is important that they are aware of the policies that bind both themselves and the other users that on these sites. Although, it is impossible to be certain who is on the other end of the keyboard when you are using these sites, it is important to be aware of the possibilities and to always exercise caution.

Managing your online identity is a complex process. However, their are agencies that are dedicated to assisting both parents and educators on how to teach today's youth the essentials. The link below is a comprehensive look at an iTunes University course prepared by Common Sense Media.


  1. Tapscott, D. (2009). Grown up digital: How the Net Generation is changing your world. New York. McGraw Hill.
  2. "Facebook Tops Billion-User Mark", The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones). October 4, 2012. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  3. "Twitter Passed 500M Users In June 2012, 140M Of Them In US; Jakarta ‘Biggest Tweeting’ City". TechCrunch. July 30th, 2012.
  4. "Web 3.0", University of Hull: Innovative uses of Technology
  5. Keen, A. J. (2012). Digital Vertigo: How today’s online Social Revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorienting us. New York. St. Martin’s Press
  6. Keen, A. (2012)
  7. Wheeler, S. (2012). Digital literacies for engagement in emerging online cultures. eLC Research Paper Series, 5, 14-25.
  8. McLuhan, M. (1962). The Medium is the Message. The New Media Reader, 203-209
  9. Turkle, S. (2004). Whither Psychoanalysis in computer culture? Psychoanalysis Psychology, 21(1), 16-30
  10. Turkle, S. (2004)
  11. Friere, P. (2001) Pedagogy of Oppressed. New York. Continuum.
  12. Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2007). Paulo Friere and Ivan Illich: technology, politics and the reconstruction of education. Policy Futures in Education, 5(4), 431-448
  13. Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2007)
  14. Article 29 Data Protection Working Party Letter
  15. Google privacy policy: Main Findings and Recommendations

External links:

The Zuckerberg Galaxy Greets McLuhan's Centennial Andrew Keen's Website Andrew Keen's Ted Talk Steve Wheeler's Blog: Learning with E's