My Online Identity
Every time I introduce myself, the first response I always get is the uniqueness of my name (or the "I'm sorry, did you say Marissa?"). Given my name is an uncommon one, I've always had a hunch that if someone were to search me up online, the probability of the search results that actually are relevant to me are pretty high. On one hand, this seems pretty convenient for potential connections on social media to find me, especially when it comes to the professional world.
On the other hand, I don't quite have the comfort of anonymity, as my specific data can't be tucked comfortably in a supposed sea of Nerissa Wang's. With a high chance of being perceived online with just one search, I wonder how quickly someone on another screen can form my online image and whether that image is an accurate portrayal of how I would like to be perceived. Realizing my uncertainty regarding my online image was unsettling, as although I provide the information and data, I lack control over the way my information is structured and whether such structure displays accurate patterns in the formation of my online identity. When a single search is so much more pertinent to my online identity, the potential disconnect between the image I intend to create online versus the actual image created online becomes increasingly concerning, showcasing a lack of control one has over the shaping of their information online.
What Google Says
The first link had a broad collection of Nerissa Wang's on LinkedIn, yet it was immediately followed up with my own LinkedIn link. Inspecting those Nerissa Wang profiles, I see that they have more connections, so why was my specific LinkedIn recommended?
Furthermore, in the preview of Google Images two out of the four images in the preview were relevant to me, as seen on the left. One was an icon for my personal website and the other a photo that I use for most social media profile pictures. The other two were photos of another Nerissa Wang, the founder of a band in China with large media presence. This was weird to me as she has more of a widespread reputation than I do, yet my pictures came up first.
After looking at the search results above, I realize that a potential reason why the above results were referred to me was because although I'm in incognito mode, Google can still recognize that my location is in North America and thus provided the Nerissa Wang's located in North America: me. So I decide follow Google's train of thought and used location to narrow down on my online identity a bit more by adding "michigan", as listed underneath the LinkedIn link, to the query.
'nerissa wang michigan': From just applying a vague attribute I got from the preview of the LinkedIn link from before, suddenly all search results were relevant to me. The results fell primarily into the professional/educational category, which includes my Linkedin, personal website, high school achievements, and my data ethics blogs. The social media links included my Facebook account and my dance group's Facebook post of me. There was also a data broker result, in which the link isn't actually a profile of me, but rather my family member's. Following through, I saw that my name was listed under said family member's list of relatives.
Data Broker: Upon clicking my name in the list of relatives, there was my address, age, relatives, and associates. All were accurate except for the list of relatives, which was a bit concerning. Most of those that were listed in the relatives section I have heard of or met. I don't know what their identities are like online, what they do or are affiliated with. Yet, by listing me as someone in relation with them, I may be lumped into the assumption that I could perhaps be part of the affiliations they are a part of.
The Identity Painted
From the relevant search results in "nerissa wang", there is a vague image of a computer science student at the University of Michigan who is seemingly active on Twitter and Depop. As we narrow the search to "nerissa wang michigan", you're able to connect a person together through the relevant search results, where every one of the links mentioned above actually have some sort of connection with one another (ex. my LinkedIn has my personal website, which connects my socials and shows my educational history). The focus of the search results is placed on her professional and educational achievements, perhaps painting a picture of a career-focused student with active participation of extracurriculars and various social media that includes Twitter, Facebook, and Depop.
Accuracies: Looking at the results the queries returned, the focus of the results were actually quite accurate in what I placed as a priority in my life. Although I am regularly active in other online platforms such as social media, I currently hold my academic and professional life as a top priority. Because of this, the second query of "nerissa wang michigan" paints a relatively accurate picture of not exactly who I actually am, but rather of how I want to be presented.
However, my sentiments towards the accuracy are more of relief rather than contentment. Of the information I had put online, I was letting the algorithm choose how they wanted to display it, and it just happened that my priorities lined up with how the algorithm decided to display my data. Without knowing it, I had taken a gamble with the algorithm in the creation of my online "avatar". The lack of control is one thing, but more concerning is being unaware you have no control.
Inaccuracies: From the first search result, "nerissa wang", the categories that the results fit under are relatively diverse, where LinkedIn is professional, Twitter is social, and Depop is commercial. I use LinkedIn moderately, so I was content with it being one of the top search results, however I rarely use Twitter and Depop. This inaccuracy isn't necessarily harmful, but the connotations that come from both platforms could be applied to me if one were to think that I actively participate in said platforms, which could lean either positive or negative based on a multitude of circumstances. On the same point, the inaccuracies in the data broker also applies in that I could be wrongfully affiliated to someone, which could lead to the reputation of such people being wrongfully applied to me (whether positive or negative). Such inaccuracies stray me further away from an accurate portrayal of myself online, which once again, these inaccuracies are out of my control.
Furthermore, as I assumed the only reason my LinkedIn link was referred to me from just searching 'nerissa wang' was because I'm located in North America, I wonder how my data identity would change if the searcher is located in another part of the world. At that point, would only my Depop and Twitter show up? Would my image be then just someone who participates in social media and online shopping? I have no concept of how these factors play into the presentation of the search results, diminishing what already little control I have over the shaping of my online identity.
As I analyzed my online data, I realize just how little say I have in how I want my information to be perceived. I personally have yet to search myself up, and going into it I was extremely nervous as I'm not sure if I just wanted to stay ignorant of what may come up. While I was glad that I had somewhat of a unique name with a good deal of relevant search results, this only makes the presentation of my information so much more crucial to my online identity and how others perceive me from such. Compared to, say a David or a Mary, the lack of effort needed by others to form an image of "Nerissa Wang" displays how much more effort I need to make sure the information presented is accurate.
Thus, in the future, I plan to take more care and action towards the information I agree to put out online. When it comes to individual platforms, such as submitting my information on Facebook and LinkedIn, I am always aware of how this information will be presented. However, the methodology behind collection of these individual pieces is beyond my reach, so I can only start taking more control of my online identity by starting from the building blocks.