Either write something worth reading, or read something worth writing

Benjamin Franklin

As the internet has become increasingly present in our lives, our online identities have become ever more important. How we interact with each other can have positive or negative impacts on ourselves as well as on others. Being able to create and maintain a healthy e-presence and communicate in ways that allow us to engage responsibly and do not impede upon the rights of others is pivotal to digital citizenship.

Originally, e-presence was a marketing tool for personal branding and the combined process of drawing traffic and creating a lasting positive image on the Web. This marketing concept included the knowledge of search engine optimisation, e-reputation, social media uses and so forth. It has since come to extend to the personal and interpersonal qualities that guide digital identity and the social and cognitive competences to do so.

e-Presence is how you maintain your presence online and extends to your personal and interpersonal qualities that guide you in maintaining your digital reputation and digital identity. The extent and quality of your online presence can be found via a search online using your name or other personally identifiable information. Depending on the type of communications that you have engaged in, your e-presence can be negative or positive and, depending upon your social and cognitive skills for crafting your digital reputation, this can also boost or impede your e-presence.

Communications are the interactions, ideas, images, videos and pieces of information that you share and exchange with others through virtual social spaces. Obviously, communications can be offline as well as online, and online communications can spill over to offline and vice versa. The focus of this fact sheet will be online communications.

Like e-presence, online communications can be of a negative or positive nature but here we emphasise the ability to communicate and interact with others in a safe and responsible manner. The skills necessary to create positive online communications are also linked to one’s social and cognitive skills in crafting the message. Given the nature of online communications and the fact that they can be viewed, shared or can go viral, online communications should be beneficial to society and online communities, where possible.
 

E-presence and communications change with technology

As new technology, social media platforms and the internet continue to rapidly evolve, e-presence and communications also change and evolve. Face-to-face personal interaction may be reduced in some circumstances, but as many Web conferencing companies can attest, many people still prefer face-to-face interactions for certain aspects of business, just as many people prefer face-to-face interactions for personal communications.

As technology changes, other forms of communication can be seen, such as virtual reality or augmented reality. Virtual reality is when users interact in a digital environment in such a way that it simulates the user’s presence in a real or imaginary situation, whereas augmented reality layers computer-generated enhancements over an existing reality to make it more meaningful and let users interact with it. Both can change the way we communicate. The immersive experience offered by VR and AR can be altered so that each person has a different perception of reality – this is a new dimension to communications that provides for a tailor-made personal and social experience.
 

E-presence, data protection and privacy

All citizens should be aware of how to protect their online identities, protect their personal data and maintain a modicum of privacy if so enabled. By using critical judgment and performing simple research, digital citizens should be able to change the privacy settings on most platforms and apps in order to maintain positive online identities (see Fact sheet for further information about protecting your online identity).

With the General Data Protection Regulation implemented across the European Union in 2018, individuals should have more control over their data and privacy and be able to control their e-presence in a manner they deem suitable.

How does it work?

e-Presence can be established directly or indirectly. You can directly create an account, upload data, images and information. Your indirect presence is created by others who have tagged you in images or uploaded your information and data or data and information about you. Many online platforms inform you when you have been tagged on their platform, and you have the ability to confirm or deny the tag.

Figure 13: e-Presence communication modesCommunications technology offers a variety of methods and means of communications from the simple to the very complex, and digital media has amplified our communication possibilities (Figure 13). Communications have gone way beyond face-to-face and offline interactions and exist in a multitude of ways and forms online. Users are now able to communicate one on one, one to many or many to one. The methods of communications are varied and can include the following:

  • chats (informal term for interactive communication taking place on a dedicated discussion channel)
  • instant messaging (a type of online chat that provides real-time text messaging)
  • SMS
  • e-mails
  • voice over IP (VoIP) conversations
  • social networks
  • podcasts
  • virtual and augmented reality environments
  • gaming environments.

Figure 13: e-Presence communication modes

One of the trends that has emerged is the ability of people to communicate across several of these methods and media simultaneously. For example, when playing a video game, you can also send chat messages, or you can use a social media network to play a game and message with others about your score.

With the many different methods of communications, users can adopt an approach which best affords benefits for them. Benefits include reduced distance between people, the ability to create contact with people external to their immediate community, the ability to share information and resources and more.
 

Considerations for positive communications

  • Everything that you post, send or record online leaves a digital footprint (similar to footprints in the sand).
  • Think before you post a message, regardless of the content. Something that you think is positive may be misconstrued.
  • Keep all personally identifiable information private, including images that might leave clues as to who you are, your location or your gender.
  • Respect the equipment that you use and remember that if you use the servers of your school or employer, your communications may not be private.
  • Find out if there are options allowing you to customise the time during which your online contribution will remain visible. Chances are that you would be pretty embarrassed at 16 by pictures or opinions that you posted when you were 10.
     

Educational and citizenship value

Figure 14: e-Presence and communications – Core digital citizenship competencesCommunications and e-presence are valuable for digital citizens as they build and maintain their online reputations and online interactions in a positive manner.

Understanding how to manage one’s digital identity and digital footprint is essential for digital citizens.

Many argue that online communications do not replace telephones and face-to- face communications, but rather enhance traditional communication.

Figure 14: e-Presence and communications – Core digital citizenship competences