My Search Engine Identity
I used Google for all of the below queries and searched in both regular and incognito browsing mode. I was pleasantly surprised to find that were no visible differences when searching in the different modes.
Search Query: "Sabina Anand"
Googling myself is always particularly interesting because I actually have a knowledge panel that lists me as an author. This is always the first thing that catches my eye onscreen. I self-published a book when I was 12 years old (I know, I don't know what I was doing at 12 years old either), which is the book listed underneath my published work. Although I've seen this knowledge panel before, this was the first time I was curious enough to see what happened when I pressed "Claim knowledge panel". I was asked to provide my reasoning for claiming, a selfie, and a photo of my government-issued ID.
As for the search results themselves, most of them were related to my professional/academic life. My LinkedIn profile shows up first, followed by a link to my author profile on Amazon. The images that show up are also mostly actually photos of me, two from when I was 12, and two more recent images. The cover photo for my novel also appears.
One link that always makes me laugh, appearing 3rd in the search results, is a link to my IMDb profile, which I only have from being in an extra in a TV show when I was 11 years old. (Yes, I know, middle school me was infinitely more interesting than college me).
I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of my social media links show up upon googling my name. After the first 5 results, the links are all to social media profiles of other strangers that share my name. So, my consensus is that while I wish my search results returned more recent images/articles about me, I'm glad that they are all professional and academic in tone.
Search Query: "Sabina Anand University of Michigan"
My search results from my name alone primarily fell into two categories:
- Creative projects I did as a child
- Collegiate professional life
Because the latter category is more reflective of my current identity, I was curious to see if my online identity more closely aligned with my current real identity if I added "University of Michigan" to the query name. And indeed, this was the case; my LinkedIn remained the top search result, and the first three images that appeared in Google Images were recent pictures of me. One interesting point worth noting is the remaining search results and images were of people who are affiliated with me professionally in college: clubs I am in, programs I am a part of, etc. I found it interesting that people could piece together my network and who I interact with on a day-to-day based on this query search. However, I was again pleased to find that my social media and any other personal links did not appear.
Search Query: "Sabina Anand Instagram"
The fact that my social media links didn't appear when googling my name made me curious to discover how easy it might be for a stranger online to find my social media. This query still failed to display my real Instagram account (despite my username containing my full name), and I'm not quite sure why this is the case but my guess would be that my actual display name is just my first name. Interestingly enough, the fourth search result was a link to my Pinterest account, that I haven't used in years. I can't seem to wrap my head around why this account shows up and my Instagram account doesn't even though the usernames are the exact same. I suppose it might be time to reevaluate my privacy settings on Pinterest.
Intersectionality of Identity
There are two distinctions worth noting:
- Online identity vs real identity
- Past identity vs current identity
Online vs Real IdentityWhile playing around with the queries got my online identity closer and closer to a reflection of my real identity, ultimately I don't believe that my online identity is a true reflection of who I am. And I believe that's a good thing.
My identity is multi-faceted: who I am at school/work, who I am with friends, who I am with family, who I am by myself. All of these "versions" of myself have various elements, some of which I am okay with being put online and some of which I prefer to keep private. I am happy to report that the elements of my life that I prefer to keep private are pretty difficult to find online, even with a detailed Google search query. My persona online portrays mainly my academic/professional aspects, and that's the only part of my life that I prefer to be discoverable online.
Past vs Current Identity
While I was pleased to find that my online identity only displays components that I am comfortable with the public seeing, I did find discomfort in the fact that a lot of my search results are pretty outdated. For example, I would prefer that photos of me in middle school didn't appear when my name was searched. Similarly, it would be nice to see reports of achievements I have made in the last 2-4 years appear in my "knowledge panel" as opposed to accomplishments from when I was 12 years old. But ultimately, I cannot say that these search results are not a part of my real identity -- in fact, they are pretty indicative of who I was at that age. I also recognize that this is likely the case because I was experimenting with more unique, "newsworthy" projects at a younger age.
Evaluation & Reflection: Who's at fault?
There was nothing out of the ordinary in my surface-level online identity -- everything that appeared in the search results is a facet of my identity that I am okay with putting online for the world to see.
However, I do wish that my results were more current. The book I wrote and the TV show I was a part of are no longer relevant components in my life. I began to ask, can I blame Google for cementing these aspects of my life permanently online? But I don't think the answer is yes. I have been aware that these components of my life were online for the past few years. I haven't taken any steps to get these results removed or taken down. I haven't published updated components of my life that I can expect to replace these search results. I didn't even take the steps to "claim" my own knowledge panel until this assignment.
For example, I could have "claimed" my own knowledge panel or had it removed, taken down the sale of my book on Amazon, etc. in order to make my online identity feel more modern. That is not to say that it is always this simple -- certainly, the permanence of the Internet is one of the things that makes it so terrifying in the first place. The things that are posted about us online may not always be ours to delete.
But ultimately, I think updating our own online identities might be more in our hands than we think. I might even go as far as to say that to some degree, it should be like a routine hygiene check. Google may make our lives visible to the world -- but the primary source of the information they make available online are things that we ourselves have posted to the Internet.