It is important to teach students at a young age to understand that what they post online will always be there. What they post online may become part of their identity. We know that the majority of people post their ‘highlight reel’ which causes others to compare. Teens may try to create a perfect look. They can be whoever they want to be online.
Students can hide behind a screen. They may feel empowered to be who they want to be. They may be more confident online. As I have been exploring the app TikTok as part of my Major project, I have been surprised with observing students in my school on it. Some students that I know are more shy, really came out of their shell and surprised me while showing me dances and their profiles. Others were embarrassed to show me their dances. They all thought it was very funny that I had an interest in it. Each of the girls that have been sharing and teaching me about TikTok have their own digital identity. They go home and are a part of an online community. I wonder how much they are subconsciously thinking about this identity when they are walking around school. After posting videos, they know many people would’ve saw the night before or that morning, are they thinking what did others think? Who saw it? Did others think my dance was good? Are others talking about me? Did I look good in that picture? How much of their digital identities are they thinking about at school? Or how much of what they do online portraits who they are at school or who people that don’t know them well think of them? It’s very interesting to think about how much this identity is a part of them.
When I was young I’d go home and maybe call a friend but that was it. I didn’t have an identity online to upkeep. But as I got into teenage years social media was being created.
I grew up in MSN times. In grade 7/8 my brothers and I would race home to fight our way on to the desktop in our house so we could talk to our friends. My mom deliberately made sure the desktop was in the kitchen so there was no way of hiding what we were doing online. MSN grew into other chat rooms. I remember logging into chat rooms to talk to strangers one time. I just wanted to try it out. I felt super guilty after because there was a fear put in me that these strangers could find me and hurt me. But I had to find out on my own. When my friends and I would have sleepovers at this age, we would make videos on our webcam and edit them in cool ways. The biggest difference now is we didn’t have anywhere to post them (very thankful for that).
In high school I had MySpace and hi5. These were social media apps. I think I was technically to young to have them, but would’ve lied about my age. I have been trying to remember what I even did on these sites and what the main purpose was. I do remember making a profile on MySpace and trying to build my identity to fit in with my older brother and his friends. They were into hardcore, punk music that I also liked. I had quotes from my favourite bands so people who viewed my profile would know what I like. That is totally what we do now with Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and more. We make a profile of what we like and how we want the world to perceive us. I know students in middle years who have best friends that live in other countries who they met online because they connected through digital identities. They never have met in the real world but talk everyday on their devices.
My digital identity started during my hi5, myspace, and msn times. I tried to find my profiles on MySpace and hi5 but did not have luck which is a good thing to me!
I remember in high school when everyone was getting Facebook. I decided to be a rebel and refused to get it. I had a friend make a deal with me that if she could get 100 peoples signature, I would get it. I got it right away after that. I came to enjoy it with everyone. In high school I definitely would over-share. I had a camera and about once a month I would upload all the pictures to an album on Facebook. Instagram became popular when I was in university. At first I thought it was an app for editing pictures. It’s interesting to reflect and see how much I have changed. I stopped over-sharing during university when I thought about what my profile looked like and how I wanted to portrait myself as I went into a new profession. I was also very conscience of what I shared because I had so many older friends, family and parents friends. I cared about what people thought of me so I was always careful about what I did post. I’m glad I would think about what I posted. I had privacy settings so certain people couldn’t see all my pictures too.
Now I rarely go on social media. I stopped posting on Facebook and Instagram regularly about 4 years ago. The reason I stopped posting on Instagram was I found myself always thinking about taking pictures and what picture I would post during a trip or experience instead of just enjoying and being present in moments. After our class about digital identity, I was quick to look up myself and see what kind of digital footprint I have and what people could find out about me. I was happy to not find much about myself. I have a name that is common so nothing really comes up in google except my school website where I work. On my personal social media I have lots of privacy settings. When searching my handle, posts that my friends made and tagged me in came up. I realized that every time my friends post something with me it becomes part of my digital identity or footprint.
Reflecting on digital identity has made me become more aware of what I post and how it may forever become part of who I am. It is important to have conversations about digital identity with students at all ages. All educators should have a chance to learn about digital identity so it can be a natural conversation throughout our classrooms.