Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 8 seconds

On Twitter Profiles

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 8 seconds

So here’s a question to all you pedagogues who ask your students to create twitter accounts (and this was triggered by discussions with Christina Hendricks and Andrea Rehn via twitter and google doc):

How much personal info do you suggest they divulge on their twitter profile?

On the one hand, we often recommend students have  a professional looking email account, so use their name rather than nicknames. However, many professionals on twitter have fun names (@writingasjoe @jessifer @slamteacher @allistelling @cogdog @dogtrax @nomadwarmachine- to name just a few people I’ve been tweeting to a lot lately) – and the fun names sometimes prompt conversation about where the name comes from (e.g. I had never heard of slam poetry until I asked Sean what that name was about; the “dog” names made me ask what the fuss about dog names was about, and I got two interesting blogposts from Alan and Kevin about that).

On the other hand, some of my other favorite people are like me and use their full names or surnames: @davecormier, @bonstewart, @koutropoulos @rjhogue) – and most of them use their own photo for the profile… Some people write really funny stuff, some people write really straightforward stuff, some people do a mix of both.

The discussion of the profile pic

Would you encourage undergrads to use their own photo, or something else? Most people who use their full names, have relatively serious profiles and their own photos; people with interesting names up there sometimes have photos of something other than themselves (a cartoon for @dogtrax, a dog for @cogdog, some weird thing for @allistelling) but others have more serious pics (e.g. @writingasjoe and @jessifer). There are people like @jimgroom who uses his name in full but has a cartoon for a photo. I’m thinking each one of us is being thoughtful in their choice of photo.

For my gravatar and my disqus profiles, I use a black-n-white photo of  half of my face intentionally because I want to appear human enough, but I also don’t want to give too much of myself away because I’m posting all over the place like on the Chronicle and I don’t know if I want people to see me completely (I also think it’s a classy photo, which I was lucky to get done for free once). @koutropoulos often has photos of himself that don’t really show what he looks like, covering parts of his face.

Then there is the whole Alec Couros thing, where people used his photos from online to take on his identity.

And don’t get me into my facebook profile pic which is currently of me as a child kissing my dad. My mom won’t let me change that photo (I’ve had it on since my dad passed away, and when I changed it once, she seriously smsed me to please change it back; I tried ). That’s what you get for having your mom as a facebook friend 😉


I’m not sure exactly why my twitter photo is the one that’s most obviously me, front face and all. It just made sense to me for that medium. For how I wanted to present myself in that medium. It’s an old photo, though. I need to put a new one up.

So what would do you advise your students to do? Or do we just make sure they know anyone in the world can see it and let them judge? They’re 17/18 but they’re not totally clueless, so…?

Then again, it’s a creativity course, and it might be cool for them to experiment with doing a creative photo, maybe one that’s of themselves but played around with? Like the one I use in this article (it uses an app called “my sketch”, and I used it because the editor wanted a real photo but my husband has a thing of not liking to post photos of our child online, so I took a middle way). But in any case, there is loads of room for creativity with the background photo 🙂 I use the same one on my blog (which is a photo I took that shows reflection on the water – pretty but also suitable for my blog’s title “reflecting allowed” – and using it the same on twitter makes me recognizable across platforms, I guess).


Posting location – is that a controversial thing? I’ll need it later for the twitter game we’re hoping to play in November, because we might do activities that require people to team up across countries/cities. Is there an ethical issue I should be keeping in mind here?


I have a feeling I am missing out on something that’s supposed to help me help students be cautious. I’m still reading Net Smart, so if there’s a chapter there I need to look at, help me find it quicker (I am not reading it linearly, just picking parts at the moment) or any other links, I’d appreciate that.


17 thoughts on “On Twitter Profiles

  1. On the subject of student identities or alter egos (which in fact, I think, works well generally for all people who put anything on line) is this simple rule of thumb:

    Say nothing, do nothing and show nothing that you wouldn’t say, do or show to your mother.

    1. Or your children 🙂 Thanks David, that’s a nice and simple one. I now remember @cogdog saying similar in another context 🙂

  2. We talk about it — but I don’t actually offer any suggestions. I share with them my own experiences — and experiences some of my friends have had. When I was first on twitter, I used a pseudonym and a photo of a water lily, which matched the pseudonymous blog I’d kept for years. It wasn’t until two years ago that I decided to add my full name (although I kept the writingasjoe part). We talk about the pros and cons — with all of us chiming in about stuff that has happened to other people we know — and that helps them up their own minds. My only rule is that I have to know it’s them — usually that means that they toss their first name in there somewhere.

    1. Hey Janine, that waterlily looks like it belongs to a blogspot account connected to your gravatar. Btw someday u gotta tell me the story of ‘joe’ 🙂

  3. I do an entire module on digital identity before I asked her dissipating on the web. It allows them to choose how much of themselves they want to reveal in these types of activities.

    1. Yeah but it’s not my ed tech class for teachers, this one, it’s a freshman creativity class where i teach a module on edu games for 4 weeks. I don’t have time to talk too much about digital identity

  4. Hi Maha, thinking about profile photos I’d go for playful rather than silly and then explore the difference. I use a picture of Leslie and me in front of a rail yard switching engine painted up as a character my grandsons recognize from books and cartoons. Could say I’ve combined the roles played by myself in the picture. For the sake of safety it’s more important to openly discuss not just how a person might make themselves vulnerable with their choice images–especially young women, but also to allow themselves to talk openly with others about being victimized or bullied. Imperative that people don’t feel isolated or unable to seek help because they fear revealing something they did that was “foolish”, embarrassing or revealing of weakness / immaturity. This might be too serious but feeling alone will defeat you and anything that makes you pull back into place without resources for rescue is stupid bravery.

    I like your picture with your Dad. All strong people are not alone in themselves.

    1. thanks for this very thoughtful response, Scott. I think given what you and Rebecca have said, I might actually ask my co-teacher to give me some time early in the class (even before the Twitter thing!) to talk to students about these things, because they also create wordpress blogs and they create their gravatars, etc. so they need to make those choices there, before they even get onto Twitter.

      1. People do need back-up and others to talk to who won’t judge their mistakes. It may not seem related to just picking a gravatar but suffering in silence over the careless comments of others can actually be deadly. We want our students to be sensitive but also robust and willing to take chances and make mistakes. Allow yourself mistakes and sometimes that means being embarrassingly supportive of others.

        There’s a paradox in this that we have to get past or we won’t grow into the open people we want to be. Vulnerability and safety is a combination so rich and also so close to danger that they can’t exist without the gracefulness of forgiveness and sometimes we ourselves can’t sponsor that forgiveness for ourselves and need others.

        Selfish as it sounds, Rebecca’s hurts and successes are healing for me. I draw from her energy and bravery and I’m stronger for it. A person’s identity online can be as complex and contradictory as they want. Maybe the wholeness of themselves is too far a reach for young people and they need a managed image? Or maybe they need to be a complete suite of feelings and understandings in the storm to really shine?

        Who knew Twitter could be so deep?

        1. Scott, I am reading and loving this, but thinking, “do I follow Scott on twitter?” – I thought you weren’t on twitter!!!

            1. Lol! Really? U know one of my second cousins (an uncle) responded to my twitter treasure hunt post telling me to let my students teach me how to use it. He’s a prof of engineering in the US, but i was baffled coz most ppl i know from twitter say a lot of their students don’t use it. Kinda weird, then, his response. Not sure yet how it’ll be for my Egyptian freshmen.
              So how come i can’t find u on twitter?

              1. Having a short patience with technology, I’m just starting to learn how to use my “smart phone” and Twitter came along at one of those Luddite* moments and got dropped. The sad story is where me and Leslie live sucks. No one here is interested in anything we have to say and after 8 years of it ideas actually begin to seem harmful to just staying alive. There was a time in my life when I lived with some pretty dangerous people (most are dead now). But you could trust them even in their most extreme condition not to screw you. Or at least for a genuine reason like mental breakdown or drug addiction. Here people don’t even care to have a reason beyond a casual carelessness with others. It’s not even a brand of psychosis or “evil” more an absence of humanity. If you’ve ever seen the 1956 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” you’d get a bit of an understanding.

                Not everyone is like this of course but once we began mistrusting most people, we continued on to everyone.

                Which is why we are moving as soon as we can (no more that a year).

                * Our college president approved an in-house Yammer platform to be set up to “leverage the benefits of social media” in a time of change at the college. Within a few weeks he was posting threats to faculty over things they’d said about him in confidence at union meetings. Faculty were fired without a peep from the union but for for me the worst was how people rushed to betray each other to save their useless jobs. I’ve lost my job at the college, my Daughter quit (she was a department head) for less money at a “meaningful job” in another place, but Leslie remains and has silenced herself to keep her job. This includes no Twitter using her own name. Most people outside this place don’t believe these conditions or attribute them to exaggeration–just another form of silencing.

  5. [I took permission to re-post this comment which Bonnie wrote on my facebook wall]
    Bonnie Stewart:
    i do this with my students – though not without pushback, since most adults in our society have already made an identity choice around Twitter based on surface cultural narratives about it, without really knowing what it is. so making Twitter accounts – which i am clear they NEVER have to use past our class – still offers up lots of meta-opportunity to teach lessons on digital identities and practices. one key part, i think, is that there isn’t a right answer for most people around pics & location & descriptions…diff sorts of personalities and goals make for very different sorts of choices. it’s important for students to know that whatever they choose, they can change, and that generally the world isn’t watching when their accounts are new (though we do talk about things NOT to tweet while also talking about the recipe for virality so they understand scale and that even i have relative privacy from the eyes of the world). what i try to do is give students a variety of people to look at, and (even more importantly) a sense of what they contribute and how, so students can learn from models. i also try to emphasize that they have some room to play – there is a lot you can share about identity that isn’t actually identifying: things like favourite songs rather than location.

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