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Class 6: My Avatar and Me – virtual identities

November 7, 2019

Who’s who in the digital environment and how do we know? The question posed by Locks Aichi in this week’s class.

Locks Aichi started the discussion by asking us ‘Who are you?’ She qualified it by suggesting we could respond as our avatars or our real selves. All the replies were short and to the point with some of you giving your avatar names and others your class name or the subject you are studying.

Locks continued by asking us to consider the pieces of data that make up your identities in the virtual space and this produces a range of replies:

  • what you post on your feed
  • putting out a reflection of yourself
  • in SL you can choose how to display yourself – the visual aspect makes it different from the limitations of text-based social media apps
  • the Green Team noted their decision to share a single identity as dogs. (Is that your only identity? Is there anything beyond the pack?)
  • Exposing your identity
  • recalling Sitearms comments a few weeks ago you suggested that people can create different personas
  • present differently online from how you are in RL
  • present the best part of yourself.

It was suggested that social media provides a curated or crafted version of yourself, it also presents the highlights of your life. In RL we are so used to reading body language that it can be harder to hide aspects of yourself than it is online, which provides the opportunity to be more deceptive, perhaps.

Then Locks asked ‘Who owns your digital identity?’ You thought that there is much less privacy now than before – we tend to be more open and post everything that we do. We don’t really have privacy.

In RL who owns you? Nobody. Why is it different in the digital space? In the early days of social media we frequently heard the aphorism

if you are not paying for a service you are probably the product.

Data is sometimes referred to as the ‘new oil’ because of how valuable it can be. How often do we read the terms and conditions before signing up for an app or a service? Do we take the time to understand what data we are handing over? In Europe GDPR legislation (General Data Protection Regulation) has come about to protect our data. Organisations are not permitted to hold our data without permission, nor are they entitled to use it for any purpose other than the one for which we have given explicit permission. It also gives us the right to be forgotten – digitally.

By not making a choice we are actually making the decision to give our personal data away. If you share too much without giving consideration to the consequences it makes it harder to shape your online or virtual identity later. So, for instance, Locks made the decision to use her twitter account solely for professional purposes. It is not possible to glean anything of her personal life from it.

Do you think about the shape of your digital life: socially, personally, professionally?

LouHug said that he posts less online now than he used to two years ago – part of the reason for this is that he doesn’t want to appear foolish in front of his kids later on in life. Others suggested that you could use multiple accounts for different personas and/or purposes.

Locks suggested that it is becoming more difficult to live outside the digital world. So much commercial transactions are now carried on digitally that it has become necessary to link digital identity with our real world identities. For example, banking legislation is increasingly resisting anonymity to ensure trust and reliability and to counteract laundering and other illegal activity. The data trail is now becoming an asset.

Locks asked us to take five minutes to think about how you would present yourself as a professional online and post your response in 140 characters or less. When you had all posted your responses in local chat she asked how you had made the decision about what information to share?

  • started writing about the future but then reverted to describing the present
  • gave abilities rather than personal details
  • personal perspective – tried to look at it from a client’s perspective
  • professional – present as diligent, dedicated, reliable and experienced in team work
  • professional but with one personal trait for balance
  • look like the best professional possible
  • factual

Virtual identity is something you create. Given time and careful curation it can become a valuable asset. So, for instance, if somebody retires from an organisation their profile may well remain. The identity is transferrable – it has become a quantifiable asset. Therefore, we are now seeing an increasing interest in laws around privacy, intellectual property and ownership of digital assets.

Impersonation is also a greater problem because it can be easier to present a false identity in the digital environment. Hence the rise of accredited identities such as the blue tick used by Twitter, although the service has been put on hold.

All of this underlines the importance of trust in the digital landscape. You should decide what you are trying to achieve with your online digital or virtual identity and allow that to guide your approach to developing it.

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