Virtual Tattoos

tattoo.jpgMonths ago I heard one of the WOW2.0 ladies use the term Virtual Tattoo. It has stuck in my mind, since it is such a great way to describe the on-line presence we create as social networkers, bloggers, wikiers, podcasters, etc. I’ve heard about employers and universities investigating the on-line presence of their potential employees, students, or grant recipients. Just recently a pre-service educator had her certification canceled because of a photo of her on a social network as a drunken pirate.

All the cyberbullying we are hearing about in the news lately is related to Virtual Tattoos. It is easy for people to impersonate others on-line and add more details to their tattoo, without their consent. Allison Stokke, a California star high school student, who now has a virtual tattoo that includes a fan site, a fake Facebook profile, and YouTube videos, illustrates this point. You may be thinking, “Well, that will teach her. She shouldn’t have been posting all that personal information.” However, in this situation, she did none of the posting. I find this very disturbing. A photo of the champion pole vaulter at a meet, taken by a professional photographer, was posted on a high school website, which resulted in the sharing and reposting of this photo, and spiraled into 1 million Google hits. I read about this in Andy Carvin’s blogpost, When Students Become Accidental Celebrities, What Next? in which he quotes an article in the Washington Post. You may have heard about 14 year old Olivia Gardner’s cyberbullying situation on the Today Show, which has taken a positive turn with supportive letters being sent to Olivia and her family.

Many people think that if they just delete previously posted content, it is gone, but this is not true, thus the tattoo. Google keeps an archive which allows users to view deleted content. It is imperative that we teach our students how to be safe on-line. As a result of this story, I plan to recommend that no individual student photos be published on-line by our district. Group photos and project images are a better choice, but never with complete student names of course. I will do more to educate the parents in our community and provide them with resources about cyber safety.
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Related Post: Stop Cyberbullying Day

Image: Mike Monteiro. Toontown Tattoo Parlor. Mike Monteiro’s photostream
22 July 2005. 10 June 2007.

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