Blogathon 2007: Keep in mind your online identity February 6, 2007Posted by Malene Charlotte Larsen in Arto, Internet Safety, News media, Social Networking.
Keep in mind your online identity
Have you ever thought about the fact that what you put online about yourself could stay there forever or the way in which you portray yourself today might affect the way people see you in ten years?
Social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster have become extremely popular – especially among young people. In Denmark there is one particular site that has won the heart of almost every Danish teenager. The website is called Arto and it has more than half a million users (out of a 5,4 million population). It is estimated that 80 % of all Danes between the age of 12 and 18 years old have a profile on the website.
I too have a profile on Arto even though I am not in the target group. However, I am a PhD Student from Aalborg University who is doing research on young people’s use of social networking sites. I use my profile as part of my research activities.
Being private online
I have had my profile on Arto for two years now and during that time I have seen how Danish teenagers portray themselves (and each other, by the way) through their profiles, picture galleries, video clips and so on. In my opinion there are many good things to be said about what they are doing and I have written a lot about that in my dissertation called “Youth, friendships and identity” which is based on my investigations on Arto. However, I must admit that once in a while I have thought “Why would he portray himself in that way?” or “Why did she choose that picture of herself to put on front of her profile?” I know that many parents, teachers or other adults who are none-users think this to an even greater extend.
What I have realized is that few of the young people think about the public aspect of being private online. They don’t consider the whole world or at least everyone with an internet access to be their audience – even though that is actually the case. They consider only their friends or the other users of the website to be the audience. Certainly, they do not give much thought to the fact that for example their parents, their teachers, sex offenders or the police could be lurking when the youngsters give out personal information or put up revealing pictures of themselves on the website.
Hitting the headlines
A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a journalist from a Danish newspaper. For weeks the journalist had been following a certain forum on Arto where young people among other things were discussing experiences with drugs. The journalist was appalled – especially by the fact that some of the youngsters openly wrote about what kind of drugs they had tried or even sought information about where to buy drugs. He pointed out that it was easy from their profiles to see the real identity of the young people; who they were and where they lived. I told him that of course I think it is a bad idea to do drugs and talk about it online, but I am sure that the involved teenagers had not thought about a journalist lurking the forum. The journalist wrote an article with the headline “Children tip each other about drugs”. However, he failed to mention the many other users who condemned and dissociated themselves from drug abuse during the discussion.
There is another recent example where young Arto users hit the headlines which I find worth mentioning. A newspaper wrote about the pictures that some of the female users upload on the website which the paper interpreted as ‘soft porn’. The article was called “Young girls strip naked” and in it the newspaper took a 14-year old girl’s profile as a baseline case. They showed both the girl’s user name and her profile picture – without her knowing – and introduced her as an example of a girl who strips and entices men on the website. The girl later wrote a blog post on the news paper’s website saying that she was in no way like the newspaper described her.
Everyone “googles” each other
Besides the possibility of unwillingly ending up as a news flash there is another aspect of being private online that young people should think about when using social networking sites or the internet in general. What one writes about oneself (or others) in a profile, a forum or a debate or the pictures and video clips that one uploads might stay on the internet for many, many years. One of my good colleagues, who is now a respected researcher, once had a friend who played a harmless prank on him on a website saying that he had 10 GB donkey porn on his computer. That was more than ten years ago, but still ‘donkey porn’ comes up as one of the hits when someone searches for his name online.
There is a reason why the expression “to google” has become a well-chosen phrase. Today, whenever an adult applies for a new job he or she can be almost certain that the employer will “google” him in order to find information that he didn’t include in his application. That is just the way it is; everyone “googles” each other today. Perhaps, as a young teenager who uses the internet and social networking sites frequently you should think about how you want to be perceived in ten from now. You should consider if you want to be associated with drugs, sleazy pictures, donkey porn etc.
So therefore, keep in mind your online identity.
Read all of the blog post from The Blogathon 2007 here.