Tag Archives: digital footprint

Privacy, Footprints, and Cyberbullying

I went dark for a few days earlier this summer — unsure of whether or not that was the right thing to do. Here was my dilemma:

It had come to my attention that my digital identity had been reworked and redistributed for an audience of people I barely know via manipulated screenshots, spliced email correspondences, and false representations of my words, politics, and intentions. As a colleague put it, I had officially been cyberbullied.

This isn’t the first time my identity has been stolen or manipulated, nor is it the first time it has caused unnecessary waves in my personal life. (And something tells me it won’t be the last.) But after considering my options (most of which would include drastically reducing my digital footprint), I concluded that I shouldn’t change anything about how I tweet, blog, or communicate. As an instructional technology educator, academic researcher of blogs, and fiber artist who relies heavily on digital media and communication to share my ideas and work, I can’t — and more importantly, shouldn’t — hide from cyberbullies/stalkers/harassers.

Alhough people who have been the target of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, or cyberharassment have little legal recourse (it turns out that very few states have laws in effect to address digital forms of harassment), I was glad to hear of landmark legislation that went into effect on July 1st. The Dignity for All Students Act addresses bullying and harassment at the K-12 level on school grounds in New York State, and is an important step in acknowledging the fact that bullying, stalking, harassment, and violations of privacy — whether digitally or in real-time — are not to be tolerated in any form.

Metamediated

Why meta? I am currently blogging about talking about blogging.

I was in Montreal for a few days and had the opportunity to speak in my colleague’s Qualitative Methods and Educational Psychology class at McGill University. I presented something similar to what I shared at the CUNY IT Conference this past fall, but I really tried to connect my thoughts on why I’ve developed this blog to my research via my methodology. The class has been discussing various qualitative research methods, such as photo voice and ethnography, and one of the readings they did for class focused on blogs as both a field for and method of data collection.

It’s so exciting to see more and more researchers take on the genre, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to chat with students in Montreal doing important research around education, counseling, health and sports psychology, medicine, etc.–some with big questions about digital data collection. Their feedback was insightful and thought-provoking, and I’m already thinking about how to further address some of what came up for discussion:

  • What about access to blogging? This question keeps coming up as I talk to people about my research, and understandably so. What am I saying (and not) by giving weight to what’s written in blogs, despite the fact that not everyone has regular access to the internet?
  • How do I negotiate being a part of the community I am researching? Where does autoethnography begin and end? Can you be too me-search-y?
  • How do I plan to code my data (both logistically [i.e., in hard-copy or digital] and methodologically)?

Here is a slightly edited version of the slides I used for my presentation. Some of it’s unclear without context, but:

Timeline / Handmade Books

Facebook continues to fascinate me as a researcher. I know I need to stay the course, and I will (in other words, I won’t be adding another arm to my dissertation project that involves researching Facebook in addition to blogs — I love grad school, but I do want to finish), but I can’t stop thinking about what it’ll be like to look back on our timelines twenty years from now. Of course that depends on whether or not Facebook endures, but everyone who participates on the site is currently building some version of a digital scrapbook of their life.

Speaking of books, I’ve been making them for as long as I can remember — scrapbooks, photo books, address books, journals — you name it, I’ve made it. I’ve even got an awl, boning tool, and screw posts, and cut my own binder’s board for hardcover albums. But as digital communication has accelerated, I’ve found myself sending iPhoto books off to be printed by Apple instead. I still occasionally make little notebooks like this one, out of old academic journal covers and the remains of old articles I’ve read or manuscripts I’ve written and discarded. I like carrying them around with me to jot my thoughts when something with a screen isn’t available. I recently ran out of paper to use though — all the printing at the Graduate Center is double-sided now (which is a good thing), but! A few weekends ago, I acquired a huge stack of beautiful waste paper from the Bushwick Print Lab (thanks Ray!). I’ll be making small books again soon.

But I digress. I wonder how our digital memories will make our interactions as we grow older different than generations that have come before us. We’ll have the ability to remember things in far more detail than ever before. Even if people documented their lives extremely well with photographs before the internet existed, the captions and comments and interactive content on Facebook creates a living, breathing narrative in a way that pictures alone cannot.

So what does/could this mean for research? How does the capacity to know and understand each other grow as our digital footprints expand, and how does that capacity impact the process of collecting data?

Facebook

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I woke up wanting to change my Facebook profile picture (which is a little ridiculous to admit, but we all do it from time to time, right?), which led me to think about how we manipulate our digital footprints as we make actual footprints.  I’m a little tired of my photos on Facebook (and honestly, am waiting for the next social network to take over — I have a feeling Google+ might be it, but we’ll see) so chose something innocuous: a photo of me at the beach in the late fall, looking off to the ocean during sunset.  I’ll never forget the trip.  We laughed for forty-eight straight hours.  It was a very happy time, and I like being reminded of that laughter and the openness of the beach, a place I lived, breathed, and ate in my childhood.

So I’m fascinated by what we’re doing as we walk around making dual footprints: actual ones as we literally make our way around in the world, and digital ones as we virtually make our way around the internet.

As much as I loved computers as a kid, I was a late joiner in the social networking world.  By the time I got around to joining Friendster, everyone had moved onto MySpace; by the time I joined MySpace, Facebook had taken over.  It took a year or two, but I eventually grew an affinity for posting photos and keeping people up-to-date on my whereabouts as I attempted to balance my existence in both worlds.  I jotted Facebook updates on napkins and bits of paper while doing anything that seemed update-worthy, and waited till I was in front of a computer to announce to my networks what I was doing.

I spent hours (as did many of my teaching colleagues) trying to figure out the security/privacy settings so that I could let all my “friends” see content, but my students wouldn’t be privy to the intimate details of my everyday life.  It dawned on me this morning as I was thinking about my profile photo that I’m not that concerned about filtering anymore. Besides, I have a dissertation to write, and an actual life to live — my virtual one is only a reflection of my reality.

It’s funny being an educator at a time when the growth of digital communication is so fast-paced.  I had dinner with an old friend the other day who works in technology in the corporate sector, and she was telling me some numbers about user growth that boggled my mind.  Currently, one blogging platform she mentioned has something like 45,000 new bloggers each day.  Seriously?  That’s huge.  And yet not surprising.  It’s becoming quite odd to lack a digital footprint (with few exceptions), and I’m curious about the ways in which manipulation of said footprint is going to further affect the way we communicate as a society.