The CLASS Scholars were challenged to think about their digital identities by Dr. Sybril Brown, Professor of Journalism at Belmont University, this past Thursday evening. In this first seminar in the Wedgewood Academic Center, the Scholars first viewed a video outlining the global scale and scope of social media, and were asked what surprised or stuck with them. The enormity of the numbers of people on social media, the pervasiveness of technology, and the likelihood that millennials aren’t thinking strategically about their presence online can all lead to important decisions being made about their future that may seem beyond their control. As “Dr. Syb” pointed out, “Your sins may be forgiven offline but they won’t be forgotten online.”
So what are people to do? How do you go about shaping your image online? Dr. Syb cited the work of Erik Qualman, who discusses these issues in terms of someone’s “digital shadow” vs. their “digital footprint.” People’s “digital shadows” are all of those things they cannot control, including other people posting embarrassing or compromising images or information about them online. A “digital footprint” includes measures a person can undertake intentionally to shape image online. “Create a consistent brand of excellence for yourself online,” advised Dr. Syb, so that potential colleges, employers, and others see the “honest and authentic positive reality” of who you are.
Twitter, according to Dr. Syb, has become a hub for research (especially social science research, but also active conversations between experts in science, literature, and business); relationships (she told the story of having been introduced to Erik Qualman via twitter at a conference and forming a positive, mutually beneficial, professional relationship with him); and reputation (along with Linked In, which Dr. Syb dubbed “Facebook for business”).
She showed how her own identity online is consistent with her reality and her aspirations, and how becoming “Dr. Syb” created an easily recognizable brand that can move across many platforms.
She then asked the Scholars to begin on their own development of a web presence that can set them apart by having them write down one-word descriptions of themselves and then turning the positive descriptors into a tweetable mission statement. Since anything posted online becomes a part of a person’s public image, every effort should be made to control the part of that image that can be controlled. Thus Dr. Syb encouraged the Scholars to set themselves apart “locally, nationally, and globally” by chronicling their positive experiences online, including their participation in the CLASS Seminars.
The seminar gave the Scholars a lot to consider as they returned to a life led, at least in part, online.