February 29, 2020: Digital Identity– Then, Now, and Where to Next?

Flashback to 2007. I’m sitting in my family’s living room on our desktop computer with my cousin. I’m learning the “ins and outs” of Facebook and preparing to upload my first profile picture (what a thrill). Before that moment, I had only ever conversed online through MSN Messenger, so I was excited about a new platform to connect with others. I’m not thinking about digital citizenship or the type of digital footprint that I’ll be held accountable for creating. I’m just ready to dive in and start connecting on this new social media platform…

As a brand new user of social media at the time, I had an understanding of “cyber safety” and general rules when interacting online with others. Some of these rules included: Don’t give out personal information online, don’t connect with people you don’t already know, don’t post too many photos of yourself, etc. However, this emphasis on the “don’ts” of social media use leaves a lot of room for interpretation and error. Richard Culatta, (ISTE’s CEO) explains that social media use should be framed in a positive context by outlining what you should do. He notes, “…keeping it positive is actually something you can practice. You can’t practice not doing something.” With that being said, I was not prepared for what was about to happen four years later in my first university class.

I was in ECS 100 and, if I recall correctly, it was actually Alec who presented for this particular lecture about online identity and maintaining a professional social media presence. It was highlighted that due to the accessibility of these social media accounts, future employers could view your profile quite easily. Depending on what they see and what you’ve posted, this could have an impact on future employment. I remember sitting in this lecture thinking about that Facebook profile I created four years ago. Although I was always pretty conscious about what I posted online, I had never thought of my personal Facebook use in that context before and how it reflects my personal and professional identity. I had very little knowledge of digital citizenship, identity and footprint, yet I basically had free reign over my social media use.

Looking back, I wish I had more guidance about digital citizenship, identity, and media literacy. I remember my mom disliking the idea of Facebook and always asking me to check out my profile. The idea scared her because she had no idea what exactly Facebook was, how to monitor it as a parent, and how to frame conversations about it with her two teenagers.

So… What about that digital identity from 2007?

My digital identity wasn’t necessarily negative as a teenager. However, upon reflection, my identity then doesn’t completely represent me now. This has me thinking, “Could my digital identity from thirteen years ago impact my current digital identity? Is it fair to use that as a basis of judgement for someone’s character? Is a ‘finsta’ more ‘real’ than a ‘rinsta’? ”

Moving Forward: Present and Future Steps Regarding My Digital Identity

In terms of my own digital identity, I have found myself using Twitter for professional and school purposes (currently more than ever before) and Facebook and Instagram for personal use (e.g.: photos of my family and friends). I found the article that Dean shared for his Content Catalyst particularly helpful when educating myself about present and future steps in maintaining a positive digital identity. A piece that resonated with me was Item #4 , “What am I leaving behind?” I think this is such an important lesson for anyone who has an online presence. Assuming that anything you post or are affiliated with online is going to stay there forever is a helpful “rule of thumb.” Taking second read of a potential post or comment is a simple and effective strategy to re-evaluate. I think empathy is another important factor to consider when evaluating a comment or post. In Mike Ribble’s book, Digital Citizenship in Schools, he outlines a four step evaluation process of a post. I find I am always thinking about the impact posts have on myself. However, it is important to take a step back and evaluate the how your post can impact someone else’s digital identity.

Image from: ISTE

What About My Students and Their Digital Identities?

Catherine’s tweet about the article, ‘When I have to search a student’s cell phone, I’m sick to my stomach at what I find. It gets worse every year.’: Assistant principal’s plea for parents to monitor cell phone use, ‘The internet is the most dangerous place behind closed doors’ brought up a lot of questions for me when managing your child’s online presence and phone usage. While I agree with the article’s point of being involved when it comes to your child using social media and guiding them in developing a positive digital identity, I think it is important for parents and teachers to recognize that education is more powerful than restriction. Prior to taking this course, I would have had a different perspective. I’m learning that social media doesn’t need to be scary. I think a lot of issues around social media use and digital identity boil down to having open conversations with your children and students and providing authentic opportunities to learn about digital citizenship is key. Initially, when I learned what the difference between “finstas” and “rinstas” were I immediately thought that finstas or spam accounts were not good for kids to have. It seemed excessive and opens up opportunity for more issues to arise. However, after discussing this concept in class and doing some reading, I’ve learned that finstas are actually okay. In Joanne Orlando’s article, “How Teens Use Fake Instagram Accounts to Relieve the Pressure of Perfection” she highlights three main reasons why kids may want a finsta:

1. To connect with their ‘real’ friends by being able to be vulnerable with people they feel comfortable with.
2. To enjoy private interests that they may not want others knowing publicly about them.
3. To gain popularity on their rinsta.

Orlando also explains that there are some risks associated with the use of finstas. They are not completely private and your content can be viewed from someone else’s phone or screenshot. However, she emphasizes the importance of making kids aware of this and having open conversations.

“Whether real or fake accounts, the message to teens about social media should consistently focus on always being in control of your own reputation, sharing things online that reflect the real you, and thinking of the long-term implications of posts. Real or fake accounts – the rules stay the same.”

There’s so much to consider when thinking about digital identity. I believe the question that needs to be at the forefront of every decision before posting is how does this contribute to the reputation I’m trying to build for myself? I’m curious… What do you think of finstas and rinstas? To what extent should teachers and parents be monitoring kids online?

Thanks for taking a read!

8 thoughts on “February 29, 2020: Digital Identity– Then, Now, and Where to Next?

  1. Lots of great information in this post! I recently had a conversation with my students about spam accounts on Instagram, and also left with the impression that they are not that bad. Most of the students use the spam accounts to share funny memes, and their “real” accounts to share actual photos of their lives. What did your students call the accounts? When I said “finsta”, they just sort of shook their heads. It’s hard to keep up with their changing lingo! Thanks for sharing the STEP approach – I think these are good tips for kids and adults.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Catherine,

      Thanks for taking a read!

      HA! I think “spam account” is the lingo for the kids… I honestly haven’t heard many of my students refer to “finstas” before. I can’t keep up either sometimes!


  2. Hi Leigh,
    I really enjoyed reading about your personal journey regarding your digital identity. I truly believe that what we have to teach our children and students is to always keep in mind what they are leaving behind. I feel that being active on social media can bring a lot of stress into one’s life. I think this is why ‘Finsta’ accounts started to appear, to have a safe place where you can be you with your faults and imperfections. But is this really a safe place? Teaching the STEP approach can definitely help make the online world a better place.
    Thank you,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melinda,

      Thanks for taking a read!

      I agree– I think “finstas” or spam accounts have their place, but I also feel like safe places need to be established beyond the realm of social media. Excellent point!


  3. Thanks for the excellent post. I also liked the description of your journey. I STEP approach is an excellent starting point when approaching students with the topic of posting content online. I find kids/students who live voraciously online seem to be looking for the immediate reward rather than the long term gain related to their posts. Consequently, many posts are very impulsive. As a result, posting regrettable things seems to be all too common these days. As teenagers don’t have the wisdom of age and experience, they often make those mistakes. As teachers, I believe raising awareness related to the impact a digital trail can have on a person is really important. Thanks for the good post! You sure made me think!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Daniel,

      Glad you enjoyed reading my post!

      I agree. I think a lot of posts that teens/students make are impulsive, resulting in regret at some point. I think it all comes back to the point you made about immediate reward and not thinking about the long term effects.


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