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Photo of a pug and another dog in a pug costumeKaty Meyers is a PhD student in Anthropology at Michigan State University. She blogs as Bones Don’t Lie, and you can follow her on twitter @bonesdonotlie.

I've been highly visible online since I started my PhD at MSU. Within my first month of grad school here I developed the ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ brand, started my personal website, and started my Twitter account. With help from my committee members and peers from the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative, I was able to create a strong digital identity. I’ve talked quite a bit online about managing one’s online personalityhow to develop a digital brand, and other related topics.

A couple months ago I was trying to connect with a friend on Facebook, and she alerted me that I wasn’t accepting her friend request. A little checking into it revealed that there was another Facebook account with my picture and name on it. I’ve been careful about separating my Facebook account from my professional identity, using different pictures and different names, so it was a major shock seeing my professional identity stolen for an account.

Deeper digging into the issue revealed that this is a common event among people who are active online. False Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest identities are quite common. Facebook actually has an option for identifying impersonators, and other sites only need to be alerted for them to remove the fake. Despite that, I came away from the experience with some major doubts about being so openly digital with my academic identity. This led to me question whether I really wanted to continue the online life or if it would be better to go into lockdown.

After deliberation and discussion, what I've come to is that it is better to be online--it is better to take control of one’s digital identity than let others define it for you. Here are my takeaways from the whole experience:

1. Protect yourself by maintaining your digital identity: If you create a strong brand and digital identity, people will be less likely to fall for impersonators. Make sure to keep your identity up to date, keep the pictures and names the same, and have a strong brand throughout all your profiles and social media.

2. Check for fakes: Do some “deep googling”- this means checking beyond just the first page of a google search about yourself and really seeing how your name is being used. Make sure you check images as well! Seeing how your picture is used can be a quick way to find a fake version of yourself. Popular sites like Facebook and Twitter are more likely to have fakes, so try searching for yourself specifically on these sites.

3. Copyright copyright copyright: Make sure that anything you put online is copyrighted so that you have the right to pull down any theft of images or work that you’ve done. Copyright online is a little bit of an unknown territory, so its up to you to protect yourself by putting copyright on each of your pictures and work. It is super simple to do, just go to Creative Commons to create your own copyright!

4. Request “fakes” get taken down: Websites like Google and Facebook are highly aware of the issue, and offer easy ways to take down these imposters. Google will let you take down images and there is a very helpful video on the process. Facebook will allow you to report the fake, and are very good about getting rid of them quickly.

Discovering the “fake Katy” was extremely revealing and made me re-examine my digital identity; it was a good reminder that we always need to protect ourselves online.

What is your advice? How do you protect your identity online?

[Image by Flickr user DaPuglet used under creative commons licensing.]


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