Digital Identity, as a Teen, University Student and Educator

Last Tuesday our class participated in an exercise in which we had to do some cyber-sleuthing on some (may I say, unlucky) volunteers.  This is not the first time that I have done an activity like that as Katia Hildebrandt led us in a similar activity when I took ECMP355 in my undergrad at the U of R.  Nonetheless, this is an activity that I find interesting and frankly, kind of enjoyable.  It is always interesting to see what information you can find about someone on the internet.  Whether it be phone numbers, and addresses from the yellow pages, court records, places of employment, etc. It is fairly easy to track someone on their social media.  However, as I reflect on this I ask myself “How much information is there on me? What is my digital identity? How am I leaving a digital footprint?”

As I reflect upon my digital identity, I often think about the times when I got first got social media.  As a middle-schooler at the start of my Facebook endeavors, I now cringe at some of the embarrassing, pointless posts that were made.  This being said I believe that I have come a long way from those dark times of the beginning of Curtis’s social media days.  Let us dive into the olden days of when Curtis started to post on social media.   These posts consist of Curtis updating hockey scores, mundane news, levels of boredom, and various teenage complaints.  Thankfully, this is no more.

Luckily, I decided to learn more about social media from my peers, learning about what should be posted and what should NOT be posted on social media.  Having these experiences provides me the opportunity to use my social media as examples of things that “do not have a place on the internet”, or are classified as over sharing. What I needed was a lesson from Daniel Dion, he shares this excellent picture that would have benefitted me.

My digital identity began to shift when I was in high school.  I began to try to promote a positive digital identity.  When I Google myself I still see prominent images and articles that feature me and some of the volunteering I did when I was in high school.  At the time I was still unaware of how social media could negatively affect me in the future.  This is because as social media became more popular we did not have any education on it.  The only teaching that I got was, “If you wouldn’t say it to their face don’t say it online”.

As I began to shift into my time as an education student at the University of Regina, I began to understand the importance of my words and comments as a person who was immersed in digital spaces.  I did not see the overlap of how my digital world and my online world overlap. It was in these times I was able to become a deep critical thinker when I came to posting things online.  I began to clean-up my profile, and become more thoughtful of the posts that I was posting.

This did come with some hiccups.  A couple of experiences that I had gone through included a tweet that I had tweeted regarding an anti-LGBTQ, pro-life supporter being arrested.  The tweet was referenced by two far-right news sources, one of which called me a homofacist. Read more about this experience in a previous blog post Support for #LGBTQ and #DigitalIdentity.  This experience allowed me to reflect on how easy it is to find something on the internet that could potentially damage my reputation (doxxing).  As an educator, I believe that I am even more cautious as to what I am posting on social media. Arguments and political discussions I often used to participate in I have toned back, and refrain from adding in my personal opinions.

As I continue down my path as an educator focusing on technology experiences for students I recognize the importance of teaching students about social media. It is our job as educators to take the lead and become aware of the digital spaces that our students are exploring.  I have experienced situations where teachers and parents want to ban social media or devices from their students/children.  As Katia Hildebrandt and Alec Couros state in their Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools document:

“…students are often not learning to be safe and responsible Internet users at home, so schools and teachers must make sure that students are acquiring these skills in the classroom; otherwise we are putting young people at risk.”

Teachers can start to begin to navigate the topic around digital identity with students by using sites like Media Smarts, and Commonsense Media.  These websites feature numerous lessons, videos, and other resources that will guide students to become critical, responsible, social-justice orientated citizens. I try my best to follow the ISTE standards for educators.  One of which involved being a citizen to inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world.

Have I made mistakes regarding my digital identity? Yes, I have.  However, since I know better, I do better.