This past Wednesday evening, the director of Academic Computing Services, Richard Holeton moderated a discussion between lecturer Christine Alfano, who specializes in digital rhetoric, and Juicy Campus creator Matt Ivester concerning the digital dilemma of reclaiming our online identities.
The evening was split into two sections. In the first part, the panel discussed strategies to control your how you’re portray in mediated environments. This means, they discussed how to take control of your online identity instead of letting it control you. The speakers first introduced the subject by making the audience realize how many first impressions are made through online profiles rather than face-to-face interactions. This was a wake up call for a group of people (young and old) who admittedly Facebook stalked people before they met them. As part of her PWR course, Alfano actually has students pull up their Facebook pages and hand it to their neighbors as way of introduction. They basically warned the audience that they be more careful with what they simply post on Facebook. As Ivester said, nobody wants to “fight something negative before you [even] meet someone.”
What’s more, they also used the example of Alexandra Wallace’s Asian Rant at UCLAto describe the unintended consequences of posting things online. More surprising than the video was the after story that I never heard – Wallace apparently dropped out of school after receiving death threats and has not returned since. Alfano says her video was most likely filmed in a “collapsed context,” which occurs when people forget the invisible audience online after they create content for their friends. It seems that the single light of your webcam can be misleading. Either way, the video was created and her name is now tied to racism all over the Internet.
After providing advice and warnings that can’t help but make one more conscious of their online presence, they placed it all in context: the job market. Ivester explained, “Seventy percent of [job] recruiters are using the Internet to find and disqualify candidates” that apply to their corporations. Whole companies, such as Social Intelligence, have been founded for the sole purpose of tracking down incriminating data from one’s entire online presence for recruiters. Ivester further explained the top reason for why people don’t get hired: content about drugs or alcohol, poor communication skills, and discriminatory comments. He said, “Employment is one of the most critical ways [an online presence] is affecting people.”
Some tips to maintain a positive online identity are:
- Google yourself. Then check Bing and Yahoo.
- Manage the content out there controlled by others. If a picture is bad ask your friends to untag you or take something offline.
- Have someone else Google so they can let you know of any red flags you may not have noticed.
The second part of the talk revolved around the consequences of intended and unintended cyberbullying. They brought up two unique cases. The first was the Duke Sex List scandal, where Duke student Karen Own made a power point of her partners at school and rated them. What was supposed to be a joke between friends turned viral. This was the case of unintended bullying. Although Owen didn’t intend for anyone to see the list besides 3 friends it ended up spreading much, much further than that. It had a negative impact on both the men she named and her own reputation. The next example they discussed was the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate secretly outed him by using a webcam to stream his encounter with another student to his friends. This was a direct example of online bullying that had serious consequences. Cyberbullying has become a more and more pressing problem, and managing what you put online (besides just watching what you say) is the first step to making the Internet a safe space for people.
Although they went into cyberbullying and all of the ways the our online activity can have real offline ramifications, Alfano and Ivester were hopeful about the online communities, and lives. Ivester believes “that the Internet enforces better behavior offline.” He sees a space where are online reputation is aggregated into one spot, almost like sellers on Ebay. Either, individuals will have a chance to show the best of themselves on the web.
As Alfano put it so succinctly, “We author ourselves online.” From Ivester’s book lol…OMG! to simple tips that our residential computing staff, there are lots of places to gain useful tips on how to behave online. If we ourselves online, its time we took back control.