The New York Times created this slideshow where they compared a person’s avatar with the person who created it. What do you notice about these avatars? Why might someone change themselves completely to appear quite different than their physical self?
An avatar, a character that is created for an online space, can be quite different than the persona we create when engaging in online spaces and social media. Identifying what our online persona is, though, can actually be quite eye-opening and does take some honest reflection. And just like in some of the avatars in the slideshow above, our online personas can sometimes be quite different than our physical ones.
Helping our students to reflect on what their online personas are can be a healthy exercise and prepare them for their seemingly ever-growing digital futures.
One way to do this is having everyone in the family keep a Media Log (for a day, a week, etc.), and then follow up by evaluating how everyone would describe the interactions and the persona that is created with those online interactions.
Highlighting and helping students understand some of the riskier choices, consequences and benefits of having an online persona are equally important. Here are a few points from Common Sense Media to help with that discussion:
Riskier choices/consequences of online persona:
- Setting up false expectations could set others up for disappointment later on
- Inciting violence when engaging in false behaviors online could cause harm to self and others
- Becoming dependent on the virtual persona/communication could make it easier to lose the skills to do so (or be confident doing so) in-person
Benefits of online persona:
- Creating interest-driven communities that may not be available in physical world
- Taking time to really think and process what and how something is said
- Practicing responding to others’ reactions to what is said/done
- Experimenting with opinions and how to present one’s self
Really identifying what our online persona is and using it to benefit us can be truly empowering, but students do need to be aware of expectations and responsibilities when interacting in an online space. They also need to be aware that what is posted on social media and other online spaces creates a person that others will associate with their physical selves. Asking students to identify and reflect on their online persona can be a step in empowering them, and while it may be difficult, it can open up dialogues that will keep students reflecting on what, how, and why they are posting when online.