This week, we look at both inward and outward – that is, we consider how we represent both ourselves and others on the Internet, and how we protect the identity of ourselves and others.
Click the title of each topic to expand that section.
Protecting your reputation and online identity
Before jumping into online discussions, and participating in online culture, it is important to consider your personal reputation and online identity. Who do you want to be on the Internet?
Here is a great article on Best Practices: Protecting Your Reputation and Identity Online – https://help.blackboard.com/en-us/Learn/9.1_SP_12_and_SP_13/Student/110_Nav_My_Blackboard/090_Reputation_and_Identity
Rebecca’s practical tips:
- Your accounts are only as secure as your password. Attackers try to obtain a copy of the password file and then try to guess the passwords (typically the password itself is not stored in the file, rather a unique code known as a hash is stored). Attackers can take a dictionary, use the hash algorithm to generate a hash, and then compare it to the password file. If your password is a combination of dictionary words, or a variant of your name or anyone else’s name, it is a weak password that can be guessed. The most secure passwords are comprised of a long string of numbers, letters, and punctuation. A quick tip for creating a secure password is to use the first letter of each word in a phrase you will remember, such as “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” becomes Tqbfjotzd. p.s. Don’t use this example!
- Consider purchasing a license for a “password safe”. There are now many available (e.g. 1Password, Password Safe, Keepass) – 1Password has a great intro video that explains how it works: https://agilebits.com/onepassword. With these software packages you can use unique random password for each website you log into. The software integrates into your web browser and onto your mobile devices – so you only ever need to remember your master password.
- Consider two-factor authentication for your most important accounts (e.g. gmail, Dropbox). For an article that describes what two-factor authentication is see: Two-factor Authentication: What you need to know (FAQ).
Importance of creating your own presence on the Internet
“If you don’t manage your online presence, you are allowing search engines to create it for you” – for an academic perspective on the importance of creating your own online identity read: How to Curate Your Digital Identity as an Academic.
Now would be a good time to jump over to the Week 2 activity and do Part 1 – see week 2 – activity. The activity provides a demonstration in the form of Google searching “Rebecca J Hogue” of what a professional cultivated identity might look like. If you dig deep enough, you will learn different aspects about me – however, if you just do a quick search (which is what employers typically do), the peripheral view of what you see (the first page of a Google search) highlights my professional self.
Cultivating a professional online identity takes time. You need to create a fair amount of content in order to ensure that the message you want to send is what is see. For example, looking at the images, you see the picture that I want you to see because I have put the same picture (or variants of it) on multiple websites. My LinkedIn profile, Twitter profile, and Academia.edu Profile all use the same picture.
Although I didn’t explicitly try to have a different identity for my cancer blog, you will notice that BCBecky.com does not appear on the first page of the Google search.
What to share and not to share on your blog
When deciding what you want to share on your blog, you need to consider not just how much you want to share about yourself, but also how much you want to share about other people. It is critically important that you understand and take responsibility for what you say about others – and how much specific detail you share about other people. If you have not already, please watch the introductory video clip for this week (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WQd4BUrWu4). I also blog about it here in the context of travel blogging: http://goingeast.ca/blog/2009/06/05/responsible-travel-blogging/
What to share and what not to share:
- Beth Gainer: http://bethgainer.com/reflections-on-blogging
- Elissa Malcom: http://csn.cancer.org/node/291485
- Becky Hogue: http://bcbecky.com/2015/03/lets-talk-about-sexuality/
- Brandie Langer: http://journeyof1000stitches.blogspot.com/2015/03/well-not-everything.html?m=1
- Nancy Stordahl: http://nancyspoint.com/when-youre-cancer-blogging-where-do-you-draw-the-line/
Remember: Blogging is about sharing YOUR story, not someone else’s.
This piece was written for a more academic audience, but I think it is useful here too:
Let me start by saying that I am a blogger. I have been a blogger since my husband and I took 16-months off and rode our bikes around the world. We blogged almost every day of our journey at http://goingeast.ca/blog. It was during this time, that I first learned about the responsibility we take when we self-publish.
On our journey, we visited several countries where democracy was not the form of government. Freedom of speech was not something that was not a freedom that the people in the country had. We learned of our responsibility from the keeper of a hostel. He had informed us that our friends, fellow bloggers who we had followed online but never met in person, had blogged about him. What our friends said on their blog caused the police to arrest him and torture him for four days. For our friends, it was an innocent mistake. They had no idea that their travel blog would be read by the state policy for the country they were visiting. They had no idea that it would impact the keeper of the hostel. We waited until we were well out of the country before we contacted our friends to inform them of what had happened. They were devastated. They had no idea that blogging about someone else could have such a negative impact.
I tell this story when I teach my students about digital identity. I talk about the importance of harvesting your own digital identity, otherwise someone else will create one for you. But at the same time, I also provide a word of caution. When self-publishing, you have a platform in which you may be heard by people that you don’t realize. When you write about other people, what you say has the potential to cause harm. You need to think about it.
I explore this idea further with my blog about my journey through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from breast cancer. The blog tells my story in a lot of detail. Before writing, I had to explain to my family that I was going to talk about both the ups and downs of experiencing breast cancer. My blog was not only going to talk about the laughable moments, it was also going to talk about how I was dealing with my own mortality, what I wanted done with my ashes after I died, and how I was also suffering from depression. In order for my blog to be a true testimony to my lived experience as someone going through breast cancer, it needed to talk about both the good and the bad, regardless of how it would make my family feel. I could not protect their feelings and still report on the true lived experience of breast cancer.
On my breast cancer blog I talk about my doctors by their occupation rather than their names. I talk of my breast surgeon, oncologist, and plastic surgeon. I do not use their actual names. The blog is about me and my story, it is not about their stories. Using their names could have an unintended consequence. There is no need to identify them directly, and so I avoid the risk of unintended consequences by not using their names.
However, it is not always appropriate to avoid calling out people by name. When you are referring to other bloggers, and specifically other blog posts, it is impolite and I argue unethical to not call them out by name and link directly to their blogs. When you choose to self publish, you want to know when someone is using your ideas, and you want them to share your posts. Including a link to someone else’s blog within your blog post is an important way that bloggers communicate with one another. It is part of the participatory culture behind blogging. It is how you join and participate in a larger community. It is what you can do to help send more readers to their blog, which in-turn sends more readers to your blog. It is part of the culture of blogging.
The two concepts here sound like they are the same, but they are fundamentally different. People that you interact with in the physical world have no expectation of appearing on your blog. The exception to this is when you explicitly ask permission – which is the approach we took when travel blogging. We did not include pictures of people who did not give us their permission. For us, this was especially important when the pictures were of children. We always asked permission before sharing pictures or names (we only share first names) on our travel blog. When someone blogs about their ideas, however, they are expecting that they are given appropriate credit for their ideas. They are self-publishing as a way to not only share their ideas but also to claim ownership over their ideas, and as such, they should be appropriately attributed.
Copyright and Image Use
I want to put out a word of caution, especially about the use of images in blogs. The issue is not with linking to images, but rather, importing and re-distributing images. Images are copyrighted material, just like text is. You typically would not copy someone’s text and claim it as your own, but the blogosphere is full of people who copy images. This is especially a problem if they are not attributed – by not attributing you are saying that you created the image.
Please read this article: Blogger Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Photos You Don’t Own on Your Blog.
There are a couple of different ways to approach this. If you want to include photos on your blog, you can:
- Ask permission of the photo creator (many are happy to let you use them – a quick email will let you know).
- Use only pictures that you take, and therefore own.
- Use pictures that are Creative Commons licensed (see below for description on Creative Commons).
Creating an Alter-Identity
Not everyone who has gone through the cancer journey wants to be identified as someone who has had cancer. Some of you may wish to blog but also not have your cancer blog be associated directly back to you. If you are a private person, and are struggling with how much to share, you may wish to assume an alter-identity before starting a blog. However, the power if blogging is that it shares the lived experience of the blogger. Blogs that promote products or provide ‘sage advice’ without sharing anything personal can be very shallow. You can tell when the author is authentic, and it is the authenticity of the story that makes it powerful. However, you can be authentic and share your true story without using your true name. You just need to be careful to ensure that you do not reveal specific details that will allow readers to connect-the-dots between you and the alter-identity.
Here are the steps/tips involved in creating an alter-identity:
- Choose a new name. In order to prevent self-identification it is best to stay away from derivatives of your own name. Choose something that you will remember, as you will use it a lot.
- Open a new email account. Use a service like gmail or hotmail to open a new email account assuming your new identity. Use only this account when interacting with your blog and anyone that comments on your blog.
- Create your blog with your new alter-identity. Use only the name (or nicknames) you have chosen with your new identity.
- Be aware of who you are when you browse. When using services like gmail, you are often logged in when you browse the internet. Chrome let’s you have different user profiles (see https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/2364824?hl=en). Make sure that when you are reading other cancer blogs and commenting on the blogs you are using your alter-identity. This becomes even more important if you are participating in collaborative activities like sharing Google documents and co-authoring.
- Write with a different style than you usually do. For example, if you always write in proper English sentences, try out using a lower case i or adding some ‘texting’ words in your posts. Try writing using a different ‘voice’ than you have in your other public spaces. This is more critical for people like me, who blog on multiple platforms already, so I have a very strong public presence. Writing using the same structures would make it easier for people to identify me.
- Avoid being too alter. That is, avoid making up too much about your alter-identity. You still want your blog to come across as an authentic experience – which means keeping your age, gender, race, etc. These things are really hard to fake, but also, changing them damages the authenticity of the story. This needs to be balanced with the next step.
- Avoid being too specific. You do not want to include specifics that will draw attention back towards you. If you have a rare diagnosis for example, then being anonymous is much more difficult. You need to include just enough specific details for the reader to appreciate who you are, without allowing the specific details for them to actually know who you are.
Planning Your Digital Legacy
One of the things that I find very useful with cancer blogging is that I can tell my loved ones what I want to happen when I die. I have blogged about where I want my ashes spread in a blog post. This isn’t an easy conversation to have in person (although I did have it with my husband before I posted it on the blog). By writing it down for everyone to see, there will be no debate about it if I should die. That will help my loved ones cope and move on. As we write and create digital representations of ourselves, it becomes even more important to have some plan for what happens to our accounts after our death. Here are some things to consider.
My husband and I use a software package called 1Password to manage all of our passwords. We each have a note in our accounts that tell us what the other persons master password is. This means that if something were to happen to one of us, the other would have instant access to the really important information like our banking passwords, but also they would have access to all our social media and blogging accounts.
On the theme of pragmatic things to do, you should consider who will have access to your accounts after you die, and what you want done with your digital accounts. It is becoming more common now to keep Facebook accounts as a tribute to the person. Facebook has a feature, that allows you to pass control over of your account after your death – Marie Ennis O’Connor writes about it here: Planning your digital legacy – http://journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com/2015/03/04/planning-your-digital-legacy/
You will also want to think about how you wish to have your blog maintained after your death. Do you want to have your obituary posted to your blog? If so, you will need to ensure that someone has access to your blog in order to post it. If you are self-hosting, you also want to ensure that someone is paying for your domain and hosting – otherwise, after as little as a year or as much as 5 years, your blog may go away.
Here is an example of a blog that has been maintained in tribute (memorial): http://lisabadams.com/2015/03/07/in-memorium/