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Life in a Digital Fishbowl: Managing your reputation online

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Life in a Digital Fishbowl: Managing your reputation online

These slides were for a 50-minute talk I gave at the Skeptics on the Fringe as part of the greater Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The talk covered issues of online information and identities and their relationship to reputation, looking at how online and offline lives have merged to create one real world for individuals.

These slides were for a 50-minute talk I gave at the Skeptics on the Fringe as part of the greater Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The talk covered issues of online information and identities and their relationship to reputation, looking at how online and offline lives have merged to create one real world for individuals.


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Life in a Digital Fishbowl: Managing your reputation online

  1. 1. Frances Ryan Edinburgh Napier University @cleverfrances Centre for Social Informatics
  2. 2. The journey • BA Public Relations – Wine studies / historic tourism • 13 years’ experience • Masters in Media and Culture – News and information sharing • PhD • And beyond! Image: Copyright Frances Ryan
  3. 3. Online Reputation Management in a Digital World
  4. 4. The questions
  5. 5. The research • Social informatics viewpoint • Focus on how individuals decide what to share – or not to share • Use of pseudonyms and anonymous accounts • Opting to not use social media • How individuals evaluate others
  6. 6. Why is it important? Real World Image 1: Screen shot from, accessed 12 August 2014 Image 2: Copyright John Ritchie, sourced from
  7. 7. What’s social? Networking sites Online forums Newspaper comments Blogs Wikis E-petitions Music streaming Others Image:CreativeCommons,
  8. 8. Key terms Reputation InformationIdentity
  9. 9. Reputation Image: Creative Commons Copyright Sarah Reid from
  10. 10. Identity Image: Creative Commons Copyright Giant Ginkgo from
  11. 11. Information Image:CreativeCommonsCopyrightMarkSmiciklasfrom
  12. 12. Next steps • Complete literature review • Design study • Develop scoping survey • Conduct interviews Image: Creative Commons Copyright Yamanaka Tamaki from
  13. 13. Yeah, but what does it mean to me? Should I be worried? Why should I care? What can I do? I have my privacy settings pinned down! I’ll just sue them. HR can’t Google me anyhow. It’s none of their business. But I can just delete it later. I’m not online, so it doesn’t matter.
  14. 14. Even if you’re not online, you are! •Employers’ website •Race results •Church bulletins •Aggregation sites Image 1: Copyright Paul Ryan, sourced on Image 2: Screen shot from, accessed 10 May 2014
  15. 15. Forget me not! Images: Icon downloads from  MySpace  Friendster  Bebo  SnapFish  Forums / newsgroups  Review sites  Old blogs and user accounts  Dating sites  e-Commerce sites  Charity fundraising sites  The list goes on …
  16. 16. Image: Creative Commons Copyright Alan Levine from
  17. 17. Did you hear about … ? Image: Creative Commons Copyright gfpeck from
  18. 18. #Aurora
  19. 19. Image: Creative Commons Copyright Rob Jewitt from
  20. 20. Good vs bad? Image: Creative Commons Copyright Martin Tews from
  21. 21. Identity All images Creative Commons Copyright to: 1) José Luís Agapito from 2) Red Rose Exile from 3) Stefano Mortellaro from
  22. 22. Information: Here today; here tomorrow. Image: Creative Commons Copyright Tom Raftery from
  23. 23. Who’s watching? Image: Creative Commons Copyright Antonio Martínez from
  24. 24. Putting it all together Image: Screen shot from, accessed 11 August 2014
  25. 25. Happy stuff! Left copyright Hazel Hall, Right copyright Celeste Mills, via Bottom creative commons copyright Patrick from
  26. 26. Homework time! • Google yourself (don’t forget the images!) – Email addresses – Usernames – Nicknames or alternative spellings – With additional information (city, school, work) • Review your accounts – Remember outdated ones – Change passwords – Delete as necessary – Review connections, too • Update privacy settings • Think before you share • Spread the word!
  27. 27. • Participants needed! • Leave your contact details with me • Get in touch (details on hand-outs) • Tell your friends Image: Creative Commons Copyright draggin from
  28. 28. (Yes, I am online!) @cleverfrances

Editor's Notes

  • My name is Frances Ryan and I am a first year research student in the Centre for Social Informatics within the School of Computing.

    I have a Masters of Letters in Media and Culture and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations with minors in Historical Tourism and Wine Studies.
  • BA in PR with specialisations in wine studies and historic tourism
    13 years’ experience in public and private sectors
    Masters in media and culture looking at news and information gathering and sharing
    Now onto PhD...
    Then the world!
  • My research topic is online reputation management in a digital world and I will be looking specifically at personal reputation, as opposed to corporate reputation and branding issues.
  • The proposed research will answer two questions:
    1) How do people evaluate the reputations of others from the online evidence available to them?
    2) How do people manage their own reputation through their online activities?
  • This proposed research will investigate reputation management online from a social informatics viewpoint. Its focus is how people determine what information to share with—or obscure from—others in order to protect their reputation in both their on- and off-line environments.

    It will investigate methods of online reputation management. These include self-censoring, privacy settings, and alias profiles. It will also research individuals’ understandings of the networks and tools available. It will investigate whether people are becoming more aware of their online reputation as the use of publicly accessible online tools continues to increase. At the same time it will investigate whether people care more or less about the information available about them online.

    Further, this research will look at how people evaluate the reputations of others based on the evidence available to them online at a given time. This will include consideration of the level of importance online information holds in the determination of an individual’s overall reputation.
  • Why is it important? Because the line between online and offline have blurred to the point that our online and offline worlds have combined to become our real world.

    We plan offline activities online, and we share offline activities online. In some ways, they’re the same space now.
  • What is social media?
    Web 2.0; things that we can interact with online
    Networking sites
    Online forums
    Newspaper comments
    Music streaming
  • Reputation, identity, and information are key components to online environments. These environments may impact the offline reputations of individuals, even if they do not directly participate in them. This research will look at the relationship between these three concepts, with a focus on reputation, and how they impact individuals’ online and offline worlds.
  • The main theme of this work will be reputation, with identity and information helping to inform the reputation of individuals.

    Current research into online reputation management tends to focus on corporate identity, marketing, and branding with less attention given to personal reputation unless it is focused on the creation or maintenance of a “personal brand” for blogging or employment issues.

    Further research and discussion regarding online reputation explores the limited control individuals have over the information posted about them and the lasting impact that inaccurate or outdated information can have on the reputation of individuals.

    Of course, postings made by individuals can later cause regret, especially when there is a perception of reputational damage.
  • Identity is one of the two other themes of this work. Goffman famously likened personal identities to acting and the theatre in his 1959 book The Presentation of self in everyday life. Opportunities to create multiple identities—without the need to reveal one’s true, physical self—for online communication has enabled users to further develop their sense of self.

    Pseudonyms have become a commonly used form of identity and in some cases have become a stronger identity marker than an individual’s physical self.

    Some online platforms and mental health professionals recognise the importance of anonymity online, allowing vulnerable people to seek help for medical or mental health issues without revealing their real identities.

    It has been suggested that anonymity can provide protection for teachers who work to remain hidden from their students as well as workers—and potential whistle-blowers—who fear reprisal from co-workers or employers for voicing concerns over labour practices.
  • Information about individuals can help to create their reputations. The concept of information is ambiguous because of its different meanings and understandings. This study will look at “Information-as-thing” (described as data and documents which can be informative).

    Information can be used to determine reputation regardless of its accuracy or quality.

    Out-of-date information on individuals’ personal profiles or government databases can lead to misrepresentations of reputation despite the once-accurate quality of the information.

    In addition to the actions of individual users online, privacy concerns stem from the way in which governments and organisations use and distribute information and data—as well as the length of time that information can be kept online.

    To address this, the EU is proposing a Data Protection Regulation which includes “the right to be forgotten”, allowing individuals to request the removal of out-of-date information from their past that may impact their lives today.

    Despite these protections, it has been argued that the information may still remain online because data is often replicated on other websites and networks.
  • In the coming months I will be completing my literature review.
    Then I will work to design my study—including a small pilot study—which I anticipate will include a scoping survey before conducting in-depth interviews.
  • Because most people are active online to some extent, most people have opinions or questions about my research. (There are even a couple of people how are convinced that the Internet is a fad and this won’t matter in another 5 years. I sure hope they’re wrong or I’ll have to go back to waiting tables!)

    The last question there is one that I always enjoy. Because …
  • SCARY!!

    Even people who don’t have internet access can be found online. For example, my Uncle George has a presence on at least one of my websites and is often mentioned in Facebook updates.

    And public information sites like can allow you to find people on the electoral rolls – along with other bits of information that can help to build a profile of an individuals’ offline life.
  • Even prolific users of social media may be surprised by the information about them online.

    Forgotten accounts
    Outdated or old information
    --race results
    Information copied onto other sites
    Malicious attacks

    OUTDATED information! Clean it up; delete accounts

    Who do you share with?
    What do you share?
    Equally – who DON’T you share with? What do you hide?

    My breakdowns of who to share with / what to hide
  • But it’s more than what YOU share. What are others sharing about you? Who are their friends? Who can see what they share? Who are they telling?

    There’s the little stuff: Embarrassing photos or stories of you from childhood.
    There’s the potentially damaging stuff: Checking you in at a wine bar when you’ve called in sick to work.
    There’s the mean and malicious stuff: Angry exes; venting siblings; disgruntled co-workers/empolyees/neighbours
    There’s the accidental stuff …

    Examples: Jade Pose
    Blogs by family or friends that mention you
    FB photos that are unflattering
  • Hashtag horrors!

    This is a combination of YOU sharing and OTHERS sharing, and the possible repercussions

    Used to create firestorms of shame and hate (Jada Pose)
    Jumping on the bandwagon can cause you problems (Jane Austin notes, Aurora, Rules for Girls)
    Turning it into something good (Jada Pose, Bloody Cyclists)
    BEING STUPID! (Boston Marathon costume; poor-taste selfies)
  • Your privacy is only as good as your friends’ privacy!
    Though online, even that’s questionable!!

    Terms and Conditions
    Who owns it now?
    Long-term consequences
  • Imposter accounts (less likely for most of us)
    Malicious posts by others
    Unintentionally damaging posts by others
    Same name, different person
  • Anonymity and pseudonyms

    Google combining accounts, outs transgendered woman

    How many identities do you have? Should you have?

    Combining personalities

    --Geoffman’s presentation of self

    Getting found out!
    (White House tweeter lost job; bloggers unveiled)
  • No, it’s not really gone!

    Deleting information doesn’t always delete it.

    Right to be forgotten – doesn’t delete, just doesn’t index

    Repeats on servers
    Cache sites
    Screen grabs
    Right click; save as
    Share, share, share!!!
  • Current and future employers
    Family, friends, neighbours
    Insurance providers
    Lawyers (car crash, anyone? Did you drink last night?)
    Examples to include Dana Snay, teachers gone wild, cheating spouses
  • Aggregation sites
    I know where your cat is
    Individuals who are really keen!
    Examples: Online dating + Cats online + EXIF data to map children (?)

    What does that have to do with reputation? Well, that depends on who’s viewing it. If you’re a cat lover and they’re a dog person … ?
  • Never miss another life event!
    Mental health (you’re not alone!)
    Community actions
    Find each other in town
  • And, yes, as you may have guessed, I am online. I try to sign up for new platforms early on so that I can get my preferred username - or at least the name Frances Ryan – all in an effort to manage my own online reputation.

    You can find me on Twitter at cleverfrances, on my PhD blog at, or through any of the links on