This article was written as part of the Winter Influence Forum, a day devoted to Influence and Artificial Intelligence, organized by the WOÔ the ICD, and the EPF.
Nowadays, it is common to have an online meeting before the real one. For instance, if a friend tells us about someone, our first instinct would be to google that person. Another common scenario is to check out LinkedIn to find out more about the person we will be meeting before a job interview. Almost one in two recruiters
already followed this approach in the past five years. The emergence of professional social networks in recent years has probably greatly amplified this phenomenon.
To put it differently, the place attached to our "virtual self" is more and more predominant. Our "avatar" often plays a pioneering role in meeting with other people, and our digital identity becomes a determining factor in our professional or social life.
What is a digital identity?
First of all, let's talk about the definition of digital identity.
A recent study by a Polish NGO
proposes a definition in only three layers: what we share, what our behaviour says, what the machine and algorithms think of us.
According to this research, we could only control a single layer of our identity: what we share
. The major part of our digital identity would therefore be completely out of our hands.
However, we need to master this one strategically and with a real stake. It can help us to find a job, expand our social circle or even find love.
In terms of e-reputation, it is first of all essential to identify the image that we convey of ourselves, to find out what is being said about us by other people. This is a critical aspect of our identity as the content is difficult to control when it is created and held by others, yet easily accessible for everyone. In most cases, the top Google search results on your name will not be generated by your social networks but by articles that talk about you. You are, therefore, in principle, not the owner of such content.
"A search operator is obliged to remove the search results displayed following a search based on a person's name, and the webpage links published by third parties containing any information about that person [...] even if their publication [...] is permissible.”
If you find any of the results obsolete or harmful, you can report them to Google.
To do this, you should go to this page and fill-out the form
The search engine then examines the requests and, depending on its analysis grid, will either de-index or not these results. In case of rejection by the search engine, you can contact to the CNIL
Many companies have specialized in the e-reputation management of their customers. These companies take care of these tasks for you, identify harmful results and remove them for you. The market for these online reputation specialists is in full bloom.
The second layer of our digital identity focuses on everything we publish. In this case, we are totally in control of the posted information and have willingly shared it. Still, it is common to encounter difficulties as a result of unchecked publications. For instance, Bilal Hassani, the French candidate for the Eurovision Song Contest 2019, was recently subjected to controversy due to tweets he had published a few years ago
. We can also mention Mennel, candidate of The Voice, who had lost the competition because of her old Facebook status, as well as Bernard Cazeneuve, then Minister of the Interior, who had liked a photo of an erotic spanking on Twitter. We should make a distinction here between two types of platforms: public and semi-public.
It is possible to have a private or public account on Twitter and Instagram. The private content is not accessible by unauthorized individuals, while the public one is visible to anyone. The preferred option for a public account is to check all publications on a regular basis.
On Facebook, there was "view as" a public, or a friend feature; this tool was used to control the image we conveyed of ourselves and to know the way we were perceived. Unfortunately, it was through this gateway that hackers collected 50 million Facebook profiles a few months ago. To prevent this massive attack happening again, and to prevent the risk of further damage, Facebook has decided to remove this feature for now.
How to protect your self-image?
The first option that we have is to create a second Facebook account, to visit our current profile and review the visible content. The objective is to review the entire profile to see the published content that is difficult to cope with. The idea is to check the entire profile and the published content that may be difficult to handle. After identifying the posts, we can go back to our official account and change the visibility of these posts or delete them.
The alternative is to use the "On this day" feature on Facebook. Each day, Facebook shows you memories to look back, including all your statutes posted on a particular day in the past years, as well as all the posts you have been tagged. If you modify or delete unwanted posts daily, your profile will be "cleaned" in a year. All you have to do then is to sort out your "likes" and public groups.
Our activities are not of concern to other people, but can be in part kept in check. The primary source of information for your digital identity will be your search engine. Most engines, like Google, collect your navigational data, search history, geolocation and the videos watched on YouTube, and so on. By combining all this information, the company can have a more accurate picture of the Internet user, an inventory of his or her socio-demographic data and consumption habits. This data will then be exploited by other companies, in particular, to offer targeted advertisements
Some search engines offer alternatives to Big Five by respecting our privacy, most often by not tracking our browser, and not leaving cookies, for example. A cookie is a text file that is automatically saved in our browser while surfing the Internet. They can change the user preferences and personalize our experience on a website; the reason why the Netflix or Amazon recommendation page is different for each user is because of these cookies. Therefore, the responsive search engines are useful to control and protect your digital identity better.
"One can get lost or disappear in a big city. One can even change one's identity and live a new life." The excerpt from Patrick Modiano's speech at the Nobel Prize Award ceremony can also be adapted to the digital world. We can reinvent ourselves. Mastering one' s digital identity means achieving greater freedom and showing new prospects in life or, at the least, not closing our doors!