Digital you … forever?
Two months ago, Jordan broke up with their partner after nearly a year of dating. The end was hard and sad, and Jordan misses having them as a part of their life and all the things they used to do together. But Jordan knows that it will eventually be ok. Break-ups happen to everyone.
Now Jordan’s ex is getting on with their life, and Jordan decides it’s time to do the same.
But first, an online tune-up - change the relationship status on social media, maybe enrol in that photojournalism course and meet some new people.
And update the dating app profile!
- Who are you online?
- How do you want others to see you?
- What can others find out about you?
Your digital identity
Who you are in your home or your school, your work or hobbies, your beliefs and values, your tastes in music and movies and books and games, all of these things are key parts of your identity.
Your identity = all of the things that make you you.
Your digital identity = everything about you online.
For many people, the image we portray online about who we are as a person – our likes, activities, who we hang out with, where we visit – can be different to our offline identity.
Our online persona can be a way to meet others who share common interests, or as an escape from feeling like you don’t fit in or are misunderstood. As long as you’re not hurting anyone and behave respectfully, crafting and managing your digital identity should be a safe and exciting opportunity for personal development.
Technologies, like web sites and apps, can be used to test out new ways of presenting yourself and pursuing things that really matter to you. You can choose what you think is important, what you want to spend your time doing, and who you want to spend that time with.
Jordan updates their Instagram profile – removes the link to their ex’s Insta account, updates their profile pic, shares some photos they took a couple of weeks ago at a rally in the city and adds the hashtag, #AllProtestsMatter. Jordan isn’t at all political but figures it’s a decent pun and might get some likes.
Online group norms
Like all communities, online spaces are bound up in social norms that guide acceptable behaviour.
When you find an online space that feels like it might be a good fit, take your time to see how the group interacts before jumping in.
What’s considered acceptable behaviour? Would you feel safe expressing an opinion, or are there a bunch of loud voices that everyone else is expected to agree with and support?
And what are the protocols when there’s a difference of opinion? Is the conflict handled respectfully, or is difference of opinion subject to abusive behaviour such as:
- trolling, mobbing, hacking, doxing, stalking
- cyberbullying, like name-calling and persistent harassment
- physical or sexual threats.
Trolling: when someone posts deliberately provocative comments on social media to start a fight.
Mobbing: when a group organises to cyberbully someone another person or group.
Hacking: when someone attempts to break into someone else’s computer or network.
Doxing: when someone publishes personal or private information about an individual or organisation.
Stalking: when someone uses the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, group, or organisation.
Observing how other members communicate with each other is a great way to work out if an online space will be a good fit for you.
Instagram now has over 1 billion active monthly users - that’s a massive number of images zipping around.
If every image posted gets a couple of comments, how is it even possible to keep track of what everyone is saying and doing?
Jordan checks into Instagram to post some more pics they took that morning of peak hour at the train station. One of the protest photos has a couple dozen likes, but there’s also some pretty harsh comments from one poster.
And the same person had gone through other pics, ones of Jordan and their ex, and written crude and sexist comments.
The fake hashtag had been a joke, nothing meant to be serious. Jordan edits their profile and removes the hashtag.
Most popular social platforms have codes of conduct. When you create an account, you agree to behave in a way that the community of users considers safe and respectful.
For example, Instagram says this:
“We want Instagram to continue to be an authentic and safe place for inspiration and expression. Help us foster this community. Post only your own photos and videos and always follow the law. Respect everyone on Instagram, don’t spam people or post nudity.”
Effective online communication takes practice
Becoming an effective communicator is a skill that takes time and practice.
Even when someone can hear your voice and see that you’re smiling, or that your cheeks are blushing a mad bright red, it’s still possible to be misunderstood.
A lot of our online interactions are written – short words in instant messages, social media comments, blog posts, and emails. It’s not surprising that what you say online is sometimes misinterpreted.
On social platforms with many millions of users, a comment taken the wrong way can quickly spiral into cyber-bullying or abuse, particularly if the other person has a large number of followers.
You might get abused for no reason other than someone doesn’t like your name, or how you look in your profile picture.
When this happens, it can feel like you and your inner world is being disrespected, or worse, rejected.
Online you can be:
- misunderstood, even by people that know you
- misinterpreted by people you will never meet
- become the target of mobbing by others that don’t care about you or how their attacks make you feel.
Even as Jordan is reading the trolls comment, more are being posted. Jordan then gets a message from their ex to say their Insta account has been targeted and is now full of offensive and really hurtful comments about their appearance.
Jordan knows that this type of behaviour online is not cool, but standing up to this type of behaviour can sometimes be hard.
Ignoring the trolls is one approach, and posting an apology against the protest pic might also work.
But Jordan can also report the content to the platform, or to the eSafety Commissioner, to help take down the abusive material.
You can’t control what anyone else says, but you can control what you say and how you say it to minimise the likelihood of miscommunication.
We all need to practice becoming the clear and respectful communicator you’d like others to be towards you.
Managing your digital reputation
Your digital identity is explicitly linked to your digital reputation.
A healthy digital reputation presents a positive impression to whoever cares to learn more about you, your friends, your interests, and the way you engage with others, both people you might already know and strangers.
A healthy and positive digital reputation is also essential for future study, job and career opportunities.
Avoid damage to your digital reputation and treat others respectfully. Respect means being considerate of others’ rights and feelings regardless of whether you agree with their viewpoints.
Managing your digital reputation also requires personal responsibility. Personal responsibility means protecting your privacy, knowing your rights and responsibilities, thinking about the impact of your online actions, and staying within the law.
It’s also about being accountable for the way you present yourself online and standing up for others.
Unfortunately, not all people behave respectfully or responsibly online, and despite our best intentions, we might encounter people with bad motives. This person could be someone who wants to cause harm by using your intimate images or videos to shame, harass, bully or blackmail you.
Which is why it’s so important to learn how to manage the personal information you share online and know what to do if something does go wrong.
Pause and think about content you are about to post. Be wary of posting while influenced by alcohol or other drugs or posting inappropriate imagery – such as a snap from a wild party.
Learn how to manage your privacy settings to control what is appropriate for you and what you like to share.
Next time Jordan logs into Instagram, they’re excited to find a lot of comments in support of their apology and all the protest photos. A few even make suggestions for photography accounts Jordan might like to check out.