I've been thinking about this post for quite some time. When I first think back to my original online adventures with AOL 2.0 on an old Mac, I came up with a screen name completely unrelated to my real name. I chose an AOL name that was longer than the required 10 characters so I had to remove a vowel to make it work. I still use that user name for some accounts. Most people also came up with crazy screen names as well, things like CandyKane, 2Hot4U, and other fun/crazy/unique names that kept their identity a secret. I believe, originally, people didn't want their real name out there because the whole online chat room idea was new and people weren't sure what could happen. It was also fun coming up with something creative. I believe the idea of internet safety was completely unheard of and really didn't cross anyone's mind. They were simply keeping their identity unknown.

Flash forward about 15 years.

Are people still trying to remain anonymous online? Not to the extent they used to. When I started my blog, I chose IMC Guy as a user name because it reflected what I did and didn't reveal my identity. When I started, I wasn't sure what I was going to write, but didn't want my identity known in case I wrote about my administrators or colleagues. Yes, I know that's kind of low, but it was my thinking. I'm happy to say, however, that my thinking has changed and I have no problem with people knowing who I am. My thinking is that I do have some good stuff to share and I'd like people to know who they are getting the information from.

I first started using Twitter with the same user name - IMC Guy. I had, what I thought, was a cool caricature picture of me and used that as the icon. Most people on Twitter had an actual picture. A few days ago, Jennifer Jones switched her picture multiple times in a day and that led to others changing their pictures as well. A small chain reaction started to occur. I also put up a real picture and heard a comment that I was now human! This comment was very interesting to me - it seemed, to me, that I was going to be taken more seriously because I was real. I also saw some Tweets that commented on other people who changed pictures and found that to be fun as well.

Getting back to being anonymous online. I honestly don't think I'm worrying about that anymore. I don't think I have anything to hide. If what I write and what I do starts a conversation, it's a good thing. Hopefully, it's not anything that will hurt anyone or cost me a job! I want to learn from others and I want others to learn from me. I think that's hard to do when you're anonymous. It frustrates me when I get a comment on my blog from "Anonymous." If you have something to add to a conversation, speak up, but tell me who you are so we can continue the conversation.

Relating this to teaching contradicts some of my thinking. We tell our students to not share any personal information online. We teach them about online safety and internet etiquette. With Web 2.0 and social networking growing rapidly, should we not be teaching the students differently? Teach them that that there are people behind the work the they create and to show it off? Is it simply a safety thing with children? Are we really afraid of what might happen? I heard a quote relating something similar - "We know there are real child predators out there, but we don't lock kids inside the house all day." Certainly age impacts this quite a bit, but why do we lock kids in and not let them explore? If we've taught properly, they'll learn what's appropriate and what's not and how to handle the situation. They will be smart enough, aware enough, to get adults involved if necessary.

What do you think? I'm curious.

7 comments

  1. Lee // May 20, 2008 at 6:07 AM  

    I also took "the leap" a little while back. I, too, got comments when I turned from 'toon to real. I do find though, that people relate more to the real me. It is a little scarier for a woman though. Since I turned "real," I've had just a few creepy/stalker-type Twitter people that I've had to block. But, I just say, "ew" and move on. :)

    Before you call yourself a hypocrite, I'd like to make a point.

    Posting pictures and information online, is really not much different than disseminating this information for the public as we've done previously. For years, authors have had their images on the jackets of their books. As a matter of fact, they've often included where they live and where they work. Maybe even pictures of their kids! If you wanted to put your work out there, you let people know who you were.

    Chances are, you're writing about something professional or fun, not something that is highly controversial, personally insulting or racist.

    The lesson to students is to make them aware of that difference. When it comes back to them in 20 years, what will be the message?

    There's also the age factor. I am 45 and if a creep sends me inappropriate comments, I can handle it. If a 16 year old receives those messages, is he/she prepared to respond appropriately? If you are going to put your picture online along with some personal information, you must expect some comments. Think about your picture. Is it a smiley, happy me? Or is a party-girl me? Be prepared.

    Now, having said that, there are times we will still offend or people will misinterpret. For example, when I blogged about Exposing Myself (which was really about how I'm just getting out there more professionally), I found that one of my Twitter friends "unfollowed" me. He later explained that it made him uncomfortable, which I completely respected. Point being, who could know?

    In our attempts to be edgy or funny, we may find ourselves in hot water sometimes. Interestingly enough, in 2005, IBM came out with Social Computing Guidelines where they outlined best practices for employees who wished to engage in online activities.

    I think we could all learn from their suggestions.

    Great post, Chad...er, IMCGuy!

  2. Tennessee // May 20, 2008 at 7:37 AM  

    I would have had more to day, but I think Lee has said it all and very well as a matter of fact! Great post and it keeps us thinking about what we do in our professional lives and how we teach our students!

  3. Jason Everett // May 20, 2008 at 9:53 AM  

    Nicely said - Both Chad and Lee.

    As with anything, there are extremes. I do think our younger population can be too trusting and give out too much information. I agree with Chad on the other hand too, that when you are too private, there is a degree of untrustworthiness. You probably don't get the degree of respect that you do from someone who lays it out there. It is a trust issue. Are you going to trust someone who is real or virtual - hiding behind a cartoon?

    I'm sure there is a happy medium for our students. For example, first names only. Pictures become an issue too and I appreciate Lee point out that it does make a difference on what you are projecting via your picture.

    No matter what we do, we need to make sure Digital Citizenship is at the top of our list. As Lee said, you never know how all of this will follow you in 20 years.

  4. gail // May 20, 2008 at 6:58 PM  

    As a new "tweet" I do believe that real photos add credibility in my mind, although I look at what is said as well. What you've stated is so true. I never use fake names on my accts anymore, and really don't feel that it will be an issue.

    As far as the kids go, of course, I would never suggest they use real names on anything on the internet. I do however allow them to add their real first names to things they have created and posted on the school website. I know many people think kids should use a pseudonym, but being authentic and relevent somehow suggests to me that you should at least be able to put your real first name with it. I know many will disagree.

  5. injenuity // May 22, 2008 at 4:59 PM  

    I've not been in my reader for a while, so I'm sorry I missed this discussion. Another piece you may have overlooked is branding. Do you want to establish a recognizable brand for yourself? BTW, I have no clue what IMC Guy means!
    Jen

  6. IMC Guy // May 22, 2008 at 8:56 PM  

    @Lee Great points - the age of the person is certainly a factor.

    @Jason - the happy medium is a good place to start. First names are certainly acceptable and I think that's being used the most. It would be easy to then transition to more info as the person grows.

    @Gail - I do disagree, I don't think kids need to be totally anonymous, but I do agree with you about photos adding credibility.

    @injenuity - The school library is commonly called the Instructional Media Center - or IMC for short. Since I'm the "Guy" running it - that's where the name came from. In addition, many kindergarten students this year referred to me as the IMC Guy prior to learning my real name.

  7. Lisa Parisi // May 24, 2008 at 11:45 AM  

    I was sent to read this blog after I posted a comment on twitter this morning about how frustrating I find it when people don't include their names on their blogs. In my opinion, if you are so concerned about privacy, don't blog. I post my name so people can relate to me. Also, I am proud of what I do, not trying to hide it.

    I find it interesting that I came to your blog and read many of the same thoughts on your blog that I have had myself but you still don't have your name on your blog. I now know it is Chad because of Lee's comment. I like knowing you are Chad. I am much more likely to remember that rather than IMC Guy. And I, like Jen, did not know what an IMC guy was. So the whole name was lost on me.

    I recently hosted a round table discussion on EdTechTalk (http://edtechtalk.com/node/3155) about networking with children. It went along much the same vein...we share so much but lock down the children for safety reasons. Is there a solution? I'm still working on that one.

    BTW...I think this is coming out sounding...well, I just want you to know I really did enjoy reading your blog and have added you to my reader.

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