Wednesday 2 June 2010

Your online identity...

One of the main things I've gotten out of my study so far this year is to further investigate my own ideas about online identity and privacy. We've all heard the stories about people who have posted something on Facebook about their job, forgetting that their boss could read it and ending up with them being fired. I've spent the best part of 15 years actively masking my name and IP address and generally doing my best to stay as anonymous as possible online, all the while being quite involved in various online mediums and as a result I was initially extremely wary of things like Facebook, which seemed to me to have very little security and far too many people who were adding a lot of personal information into them without much thought.

However, while I've always been very conscious of online privacy I'd never properly considered the impact that my privacy actions may have had on my online reputation, or web presence - that is, the concept that more privacy equals less reputation. This essentially means that if somebody else decides to post something false about you online and you have no web presence at all, then that falsehood is the only thing that people will read about you online and you could be judged by others based on that falsehood. Blimey!

Here are a few examples of online reputation gone wrong:
* Ghyslain Raza, who in 2002 became known as the "Star Wars Kid" - and when you Google his name now, 8 years later, still is.
* Ann Kerr and Helen Casey, who unwittingly made headlines earlier this year because a journalist Facebook "friend" decided to publish personal photos of them in a newspaper.
* Stephanie Rice, who luckily has many positive things that outweigh the "raunchy" publicly-accessible Facebook photos "scandal".

My conclusions about all this are - establish a presence, but minimise what you put out there and be conscious about what you're displaying to the world. And hope to God that you never end up like poor Ghyslain. I've now separated my online identity somewhat, using Facebook only for friends and family, and LinkedIn only for my professional world, and I've got separate Twitter accounts for both and another one for Uni. That way, I don't need to bore my mostly non-technical friends with geekspeak, and I don't need my professional or school worlds to know details of the latest funny thing my 3yo has done. And with any luck any drunken photos of me will remain inaccessible by any potential employers. :>

To keep an eye on your own online identity - Google yourself. And if you're so inclined, consider setting up a Google Alert - that way, anytime anything appears on the Web, you'll be notified.

Until next time,


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