- 1 Introduction
- 2 Searching for Mackenzie Cole
- 3 Reflections
- 4 Conclusions: Who is Mackenzie Cole?
IntroductionPerhaps the best rule my parents ever enforced was the banning of Facebook.
Searching for Mackenzie Cole
Common Name Anonymity
Although being generic is something I hoped to avoid my whole life, my name comes with its perks. At the University of Michigan alone, there are three more people that go by 'Mackenzie Cole.' Without first obtaining more personal information, Google does not return results pertaining to me. I am coining this phenomenon 'Common Name Anonymity.' It is the thin veil of anonymity provided to those who have names so common, their digital identity is difficult to track down.
In order to conduct my research, I used Google as my search engine. I also conducted all my searches from an incognito Google Chrome browser. I determined this was the most effective way to ensure my search results were not influenced by previous browsing history or my Gmail account.
Search Query: 'Mackenzie Cole'
The search ‘Mackenzie Cole’ yields about 33.7 million results. The primary person who comes up is Mackenzie Cole who is a Duke Volleyball player. As I continue scrolling there are more reports from her volleyball career. I was hopeful when I came across a Mackenzie Cole Ann Arbor LinkedIn profile, however, this was not mine either. Mackenzie Cole also is the name of someone who has passed recently, a male soccer player, and a male rower. I continued paging through results. I was determined to find any semblance of myself. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I grew fatigued and disheartened after going through 50 results pages. Google returned a Daily Mail article about Vanessa Hudgens and her rumored boyfriend before anything relating to me. Clearly, my theory of common name anonymity was correct. In order to begin developing my digital identity, I would have to first give some preestablished information.
Search Query: 'Mackenzie Cole Rochester Hills'
Once establishing my hometown I could add 'Rochester Hills' to my search which began to narrow in on correct results. 'Mackenzie Cole Rochester Hills' lead me through a time machine to my past. Articles from my days as a swimmer resurfaced. My days as a Highlander at Rochester Adams High School depict an honors swimmer with a passion for the DECA club. From here, I find my DECA Twitter account that I managed as Vice President of Brand Management @DECA_Mackenzie. This trail of breadcrumbs would lead you to believe I was becoming a business major, yet here I am 4 years later finishing my BFA. While there are many benefits to public voter records, I am unsettled to find that my home address is found more easily than my Instagram account. Along with the full names of both my parents and due to the public nature of my address, a value Zillow estimate or 'Zestimate' for my home. The implications of sensitive personal information like home value and address being public go beyond internet security and into personal privacy and safety.
Social Media Accounts
The DECA Twitter account is what exposes my personal Twitter account, headed with my nickname "Kenz". I haven't regularly used this account since High School. Most of my recent posts are the occasional retweet. My most popular tweet is one written in 2016, which coincides with when I was using it the most. In the last three years, my Twitter usage has declined dramatically. Looking at my previous account, I am surprised I did not disable it already. I found myself getting trapped in echo chambers and not challenging my own opinions. I also became fatigued with the constant refreshing and scrolling through mindless information and opinions. There was a time where this account was mainly used to participate in my high school’s drama. I have outgrown that phase.
While finding my Instagram account, I created a fake account to track myself down. On Instagram, there are several ‘Mackenzie Cole’ users but profile pictures made it easy to find me. I am also the owner of the username @mackenzie.cole which makes me likely to come up. Following the completion of this project, I switched my account to private for the first time in 6 years. My Instagram account has 94 posts, 3,033 followers, and I follow back 1,095 people. My last three posts were July 1st, 2020, February 17th, 2020, and November 30th, 2019. It is safe to say I am pretty infrequent with the content I post.
Data Broker: Instant Checkmate
To my absolute surprise, no information came up on me through Instant Checkmate. I searched “Criminal and arrest records,” “Social media profiles,” and “Public records” all to no result. I attempted changing my location from “All states” to “Michigan” and even provided my age. I continued to receive no publicly available records. It is my understanding that speeding tickets are a public record in the state of Michigan, which means I should have a record somewhere. Yet this data broker site was unable to find me. I continued trying on other providers such as Intelius and Truthfinder. Both sites yielded similar results and I ended up empty-handed.
I am currently redesigning my portfolio website, making it unlisted to Google's search engines, which only further hides my identity online. I suppose the internet really has no idea who I am at all and I am responsible for that. When I did find myself, I saw how surface-leveled all my social media accounts were. My digital identity lacks all the substance and depth I am proud of developing. I am comforted that old Tumblr accounts, One Direction 'stan' blogs, and middle-school Ask.fm accounts did not resurface without prior knowledge of my usernames. Those old accounts are skeletons sitting in my childhood closet, perhaps they are part of the reason I have been so private on the internet in my adult life.
Revisiting my social media accounts made me consider deleting them. It also left me disappointed in how a stranger would perceive me. Much of my content lacks any depth or purpose. It is not a meaningful reflection of who I am, just a collection of sarcastic tweets and pretty pictures. When I was younger I wanted to maintain that stereotypical social media presence. Now that it has been 6 months since my last Instagram post and years since my last tweet, it is time for reinvention.
Conclusions: Who is Mackenzie Cole?
Although I was difficult to find through Google and Instant Checkmate, my self-reflection lead me to reevaluate my privacy settings. As a user, I had little control over who could or could not view my content because I was public on so many platforms. Other than that I was essentially anonymous. Common names alone are not effective or unique identifiers of people and much more personal information was needed about me to begin finding my footprint. Even then, I did not have much history available to the public which I accredit to my parents’ strictness.