“There’s a guy from UHI who has got a book on Amazon”
No, not the latest rhyming couplet, but an example of how personal information can be mangled. What started out as a 140-character message (“I’m Alun Hughes, based at UHI Executive Office in Inverness. I sell the books I don’t want any more on Amazon as ‘bankbeck’.”), was beautifully trashed after running round the room in Chinese whispers.
It was all part of a packed session on identity, run by James Farnhill and Lawrie Phipps. The session kicked off with a brainstorm about people’s ideas about identity in an academic perspective. They included:
- a number (or a student number)
- who I am/who I work for
- my role
- my institution
- my qualifications
- what other people see me as
- a battle between how people see me, and how I see myself
We then looked at the definitions of identity on Wikipedia (there’s lots!) – but what does it mean to manage your identity? The Identity Project did a survey to see whether people understood the concept, and to try and find a common definition, but the only consensus was that the majority of institutions see it as account management (with a cycle of birth (creation of ID), life (ongoing management, for example if your name changes on marriage), and death (your ID dies when you leave).
The session then broke into groups to identify three key issues on the implications of not managing your own ID. There was lots of animated discussion – on everything from ID theft to the perils of multiple IDs.
Lots of ideas were then thrown into the ring. Issues included:
- inaccurate data (for example someone actually gets sent her sister’s payslip)
- ID theft (credit cards were a large problem)
- unwanted email, from people guessing the email address
- confusing the personal and professional (multiple twitter IDs)
- damage to reputation due to digital persistence (for example not being able to remove a presence on Facebook)
- survival when a digital provider disappears? (and if information goes to an internet archive, how is it then amended if it’s wrong?)
- press reports (if they quote and it’s inaccurate, how do you get rid of it?)
Other key issues included your digital footprint, and what the impact is of not having information online. A recent workshop for researchers threw up the fact that if you have no web presence, are you any good?
Linked in to this is how as an employer do you deal with all the information out there – do you search on Google for people applying for a job, for example, and how much account do you take of what you find?
There was lots of discussion about twitter/backchannel – you ignore it at your peril! It can offer lots of valuable information and feedback, and crowdsourcing can be an invaluable way of getting ideas. However, reputation management came up as a problem – it does matter who follows you, because it contributes to your personal/professional credibility (and could be seen as a new method of peer review!).
There was much laughter when the group attempted Chinese whispers (see above) to see how information can be mangled.
“Amanda has three different professional identities: local archivist, JISC project manager and distance-learning tutor” turned into “Amanda has a dual identity, one as an archive manager and the other has been forgotten about”.
The discussion then moved on to transparency, and how you deal with corporate reputation. Also covered was how do we educate students so that they manage their online information well?
So what can you try and do to manage your identity?
- start a blog if you don’t have one – see how it works, and what responses you get
- try out twitter (you can set it up protected)
- check out obvious sources of information about yourself
- check with HR that your details are up to date
- check that all information sources that have you on them are up to date and reflect who you are (see www.pipl.com)
- think carefully about what you write – start cautiously, as it’s hard to take offline (you can get quoted elsewhere and there’s lots of archive sites)
- if you’re a manager, communicate guidance to your team as to how your institution or department is seen (for example Cardiff’s guide to communicating online )