The internet is undeniably an important part of life - but how often do you consciously think about what you do online and how you present yourself? This page will introduce you to two useful ways to conceptualise your online activity:
Anyone who uses the internet creates and leaves a series of digital footprints. These footprints can be seen as the lasting impression of all the activity an individual performs online. Your digital footprints can be visible to others, particularly if you are using social networks like Facebook and Twitter. They can also be hidden, such as your purchasing history with Amazon, your PayPal purchases or the terms you have searched for on Google or Bing. While other users on the internet cannot see these footprints, they are still lasting impressions about you stored online. For this reason, you need to ask yourself if you trust every website and service that you use online to use your data appropriately and keep it secure.
All the information that you share online contributes to your digital identity. Your identity is made of what you consciously share on the internet, however it may also include things you did not consciously share. For this reason, you need to carefully manage your online activities and curate your online identity.
Digital identity is the online representation of an individual within a community, as adopted by that individual and/or projected by others. An individual may have multiple digital identities in multiple communities”.
As suggested by the above quote, many individuals construct multiple identities online. Sometimes this is to keep personal, business and/or study in separate digital silos to stop personal issues blending into professional spaces. Others construct online identities as pseudonyms to isolate their true selves from their online activity. This can be to protect personal information about themselves, to hide something they perceive as embarrassing or to shroud criminal activity.
There is nothing wrong with having multiple identities and often the services people use online encourage this. For example, the popular social network Facebook encourages people to connect socially with friends and family whereas LinkedIn encourages people to act professionally and connect with colleagues and business professionals. This leads people to act differently on each service, creating unique identities on each service. This kind of isolation is useful as it ensures what you share is appropriate to the audience. However, just as you may be creating your own digital identities, you need to be aware that other users are doing the same.
Your digital identity is often linked to specific online services or communities whereas you digital footprints encompass all of your online activity.
Friends, colleagues, classmates, family and prospective employers may search for you online or via social media. Are you happy with what they will see? For this reason, you should regularly search for yourself on the internet to see what information is publicly viewable about you. While you may be confident in how you manage your digital footprints and digital identities, you are unable to control all the information about yourself. Searching for yourself may also help uncover posts that refer to you, find malicious comments or even identity stolen aspects of your identity.
Tip: Type your name as a phrase search (e.g. "Joe Bloggs") and if you cannot find yourself straight away, try appending additional information like your location (e.g. "Joe Bloggs" University of Hull).