My Identity by Kathryn B (via Flickr)
Recently, my dad contacted me to ask some advice about Facebook: a friend of his (who shall remain nameless, for obvious reasons) had been a victim of Facebook identity theft. The friend is a school teacher, and unbeknownst to him, someone or other had set up a Facebook profile in his name with his photo and begun befriending his school pupils.

It’s still unclear what the intention was here. It may have been to groom children by posing as someone they knew. It may have been to falsely accuse the friend of grooming children. It may even have been totally innocent.

In the end, the friend was very lucky. Well before the situation could get out of hand, he was able to contact Facebook, prove satisfactorily that this was a fake account and have it taken down. But reputation being what it is, it could have ended his career.

Last week was the Plymouth e-Learning Conference 2010, and although I didn’t attend, I have been reading some of the coverage on the blogosphere. In particular my eye was caught by James Clay’s blog post, Privacy has gone… which in turn discusses Josie Fraser’s keynote on privacy.

As I was reading James’s blog post, that story came back to me, and it occurred to me that there’s an element of balance to be found in protecting one’s privacy and identity online.

Those of us engaged in education often teach our students about the dangers of revealing too much information about ourselves online. The publishing of addresses, birth dates, account numbers will almost inevitably lead to identity theft.

But it seems just as important to strongly establish your identity online. Perhaps by having a well-established Facebook page it would be much easier to say “that fake profile is not mine.” If there are even a dozen people who you’ve friended online who you know in real life, and who can vouch for the real you, you’re in a much stronger position.

In addition to this, having a Facebook account permits your friends to tag photos of you properly if they wish, rather than just entering your name, which in turn allows you to restrict who sees those tags.

The way to protect yourself online is not to become the Ungooglable Man — James rightly points out that this strategy doesn’t work. Much better to step up and proudly say “this is me”. Take control of your brand, and don’t let other people have the only voice in what the web says about you.

Do you have a Facebook profile? How tightly do you control your privacy settings? What comes up if you Google yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: My Identity by Kathryn B