Is Twitter the best way to see someone’s real persona?

In the midst of my latest post over at TheWayoftheWeb, I started musing about whether Twitter provides a more realistic picture of me than any other mass social communication. Besides Instant Messaging, it’s the most instant, meaning less time to construct an image if you want to reply relatively quickly, and once you build up a network, there’s a definite urge to maintain relationships by Tweeting regularly – meaning far more touch points for someone to find out about me than long daily blog posts on a single topic, or the occasional message on Facebook.

We’re also seeing more results on the microblogging survey. Seems like the rise of Identi.ca as a rival to Twitter is some way off , and it’s still Plurk holding the second spot so far. It’s quite interesting that Tumblr has started off quite well – a sign I need to spend more time checking out Tumblelogs…

It’s thrown up one surprise so far – Beemood. Which is now on my list to check out and consider adding to the list!

Is your online identity in your control?

Image by stevec77 on Flickr

This post was inspired by a request by an individual to be removed from the voting on The Rock Stars of Web 2.0 list on Ditto.

We quickly complied and I want to make it absolutely clear that there’s no malice or irritation at someone wishing to be removed. If it had been an article of a blog post which was in the public interest, things would have been different, but the list is intended to be an interesting bit of fun, nothing more. Although I’d always suggest polite responses will get a quicker reaction.

But it raised some interesting questions about online identity, as the reason given for removal was that the profile listing (Image, name and main claim to fame) ‘was not approved’ by the individual in question. It’s lead me to wonder if anyone can really hope to control their online appearances to only those which are officially approved, especially if they have any level of internet ‘fame’.

A quick Google search for the name reveals many thousands of mentions, images, quotes etc. Are we right to assume that all of these have been individually approved? Or are they seen as valid if they are on established sources, blogs, or media sharing sites? Is it the voting mechanism which prompted the request?

And how would I feel about a similar situation? I’d be happy if I was considered a ‘Web 2.0’ celebrity (which I’m blatantly not), but what if I was at the bottom of the list? (Luckily at the moment it’s Jason Calacanis, who never seems particularly fussed about risking negative sentiment online).

And what happens if it was a list which I found distasteful or offensive? Something which was racist or homophobic for example? Would I even know it existed in the first place, if it didn’t pop up in a Google alert, or someone didn’t bring it to my attention somehow?

So:

  • How do I reassure myself I can find every instance in which I appear online?
  • Do I need to check the context of every appearance?
  • Should I expect to give my approval every time I appear somewhere?
  • Should I expect to be able to request my removal and have a prompt response?

The first task is tricky. A Google search will pick up a lot of things, but not all of them. There could be some bizarre story or rumour about me, hidden away on a tiny un-indexed website, that could, theoretically, suddenly make the front page of Digg at any time (It’s pretty unlikely though!). If my online identity and network are what I base my career on, one big article, image, or video could have a big effect on the people that know me, and a huge effect on anyone seeing me or my name for the first time.

That’s why I do tend to check the context if I see or hear my name mentioned somewhere. It’s not about checking mentions are always positive, and getting upset if they aren’t (Like famous actors, I never read reviews!). But checking that things haven’t been mis-attributed, taken out of context, or words put in my mouth.

But I definitely don’t expect websites to seek my approval before they publish anything about me, or for them to necessarily remove it if I complain. And a removal request wouldn’t be triggered by a positive or negative response. It’s dependant on whether the mention is truthful, although I would expect a right to reply for a negative response, and they should be asking for my response before publication. It’s good journalistic practice and also good from a legal standpoint.

And anything I do online is done with the knowledge that it could be re-used, re-compiled, or twisted with, or without my knowledge, and that although technology and good working practices should mean I have a chance to respond to any damaging mentions, hopefully I’m now findable enough that anything out of context will be obviously so, by comparison to my blogging, twittering, facebooking etc. There will be rotten apples online as well as offline, and having control of a brand, even a personal one, will have a limited impact at best.

At the end of the day, perhaps the best way to ensure a consistent online identity is to be open, and swamp anything out of character with quality insights into what you and I are really about?

I’m really interested to hear what other people think, although I’d like to stress this is about identity rather than a place to spam online reputation management services…

(Funnily enough I just logged into Flickr to find the above image: Who Am I by stevec77, and found a message asking to use one of my images for an article on lolcats. Having to register to agree to let them publish it, and in the process having to sign up for emails as part of the Ts and Cs is pretty rubbish, but hey, I’m always interested in crowd powered media. And lolcats.)
Hizzy as a lolcat